DISCLAIMER: All characters are not ours, we're simply playing with them. Characters are from the following fandoms: Bad Girls, Judge John Deed, Holby City, Silent Witness and the Kay Scarpetta novels.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Credits to Shed specifically in using dialogue from their episode 7, Series 2 Bad Girls as in the dialogue between Barbara and Nikki when she tells the story of her second husband Peter.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the authors.
BETA: by Hunca Munca and Jen.

Till Death Do Us Part
By Kristine and Richard

Part Eighty-One

The next morning when George drove into the car park, she saw that both Jo's and Yvonne's cars were already there. Fervently hoping that Jo was in a far better state than she had been yesterday, George led the way through the foyer.

"I'll take you up to the public gallery," George said as they walked up the stairs. "But then I'll have to leave you to it."

"I'm sure I can stay out of sight," Kay replied with a smile.

"You'll see Yvonne sat in the front row, and I think Helen and Karen were planning to look in on the trial some time today." When the door of the public gallery closed behind them, Kay chose a seat near the back, with a pillar half in front of her that she could hide behind if necessary. There weren't many people there yet, but George caught sight of the two whom Yvonne had said were Barbara's stepchildren.

When George retraced her steps downstairs, she saw Yvonne coming towards her, and glancing passed her, saw Jo drinking a cup of coffee in the canteen.

"You all right?" Yvonne asked when she reached her, seeing something different to usual in George's face.

"Oh, I'm fine," George said a little bitterly. "I'm just about to completely obliterate someone's ego, that's all."

"Are you talking about Connie Beauchamp?" Yvonne asked knowingly. "She might be completely wrong about Barbara, but she wasn't that bad."

"Don't ask, Yvonne, because I can promise you that you really don't want to know."

"You look like the green-eyed monster has put in an appearance," Yvonne said quietly, her face turning serious.

"It's not easy keeping anything from you, is it," George said ruefully.

"What happened?" Yvonne asked, smiling slightly at the veiled compliment. "Did you catch her and the judge at it in chambers?"

"As usual, Yvonne, you're absolutely right," George told her bitterly.

"Stupid bastard," Yvonne replied fiercely. "What the bloody hell does he think he's playing at?"

"You tell me," George said dismissively.

"Jo doesn't know, does she," Yvonne said, glancing over at where Jo was gathering her things together.

"No, she doesn't, and I want it to stay that way. While I remember, Kay's up there, though until she's been on the stand she really isn't supposed to be, so try not to draw too much attention to her."

When Yvonne reached the public gallery, she momentarily sat down beside Kay.

"Are you ready to see an exhibition of one hundred percent proof rage?"

"Just how vengeful is it likely to be?" Kay replied, seeing that Yvonne knew all about the previous day's debacle.

"Trust me," Yvonne said confidently. "George can verbally carve up the opposition, as skilfully as you do when they reach your slab. She isn't going to let this one go." When Helen, Karen, Cassie and Roisin arrived soon after, Yvonne's face split into a broad grin. "You two on the skive?" She said to Helen and Karen.

"The thought of Sylvia making a complete tit of herself was just far too tempting," Karen replied with a smile.

"She's not on till this afternoon," Yvonne filled them in. "But George probably wouldn't mind an audience for this morning."

"Is she about to do something that might land her in my prison for a night or two?" Karen asked, looking slightly worried.

"If that total bastard bangs her up for contempt, I'll make him regret the day he realised he had a dick," Yvonne said firmly. Exchanging a glance with Karen, Yvonne's eyes told her the whole story in an instant.

"Yvonne," Put in Cassie, trying to lighten the situation. "Are you going to introduce us to your stunning companion," Which made Kay smile. As Yvonne introduced Kay to Cassie and Roisin, the gallery began to fill up.

"I have to keep out of sight, because I'm really not supposed to be here," Kay said as they all moved to sit in the front row, ready for the show to begin.

When the court was once again in session and Connie had returned to the stand, George rose from her seat at the front bench, and thoughtfully strolled towards Connie. On reaching her, George simply stood and examined every inch of her. Connie was dressed all in black today, something that George privately thought was highly appropriate.

"Are you intending to start any time this morning, Ms Channing?" John asked her dryly.

"Just getting the quarry well within my sights, my Lord," George replied airily, though the look she gave Connie was a direct promise of the hunt to come. Connie gazed stonily back at her, unwilling to give her an inch in open court for everyone to see.

"Mrs. Beauchamp," George began, returning to stand by the front bench, leaving a necessary distance between her and her prey. "In your evidence yesterday afternoon, you stated, under oath I might add, that you did not consider any form of treatment to be a viable option for Henry Mills, when you examined him back in June of last year. Precisely why was this? Please give the court as much detail as you can." Thinking this to be a relatively normal question to begin with, Connie fixed her violet gaze on George's blue one and answered.

"Henry Mills' cancer was extremely far advanced, and well within the terminal stages of its development. He had a steadily growing tumour invading his right lung, as well as secondary tumours attached to his ribs and the chest wall. The cancer had also invaded his lymphatic system, which meant that it was spreading all round his body. If I had attempted to remove the pulmonary tumour during surgery, I would have been forced to remove his entire lung, considerably impairing his breathing as his cancer inevitably became worse. I also considered, in my professional opinion, that either chemotherapy or radiotherapy, would have had only negligible results on both the primary tumour and the secondary spread of disease. Chemotherapy may have slightly reduced the primary tumour, but it would not have had any significant effect on the secondaries on the chest wall. The only option left open to Henry Mills' medical team therefore, was to provide him with palliative care and pain relief."

"Yet in June 2004," George continued. "On your very first day at St. Mary's no less, you performed a radical, extremely high risk operation, all in the name of saving someone's life, which the court will accept is your daily bread so to speak. Does the name Pat Cowdry and the procedure known as the Battista mean anything to you?" Connie briefly stared at George, her eyes widening with surprise. Who in god's name had this woman been talking to?

"I performed that operation," Connie replied carefully. "Because it was the only procedure that would have saved Pat Cowdry's life."

"Mrs. Beauchamp," John broke in. "Would you mind explaining to the court precisely what the procedure known as the Battista actually is?"

"Of course, My Lord," Connie replied sweetly, briefly glancing up at where he sat in his crimson robes. "Battista was a Brazilian heart surgeon, who developed a procedure to improve the lives of people with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. Pat Cowdry, whom the court may be interested to know was the single parent of a fifteen-year-old girl, was suffering from end stage heart failure, caused by Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. With this form of Cardiomyopathy, the muscle of the heart thickens, preventing the lower chambers of the heart, the ventricles, from pumping the blood adequately. The blood that cannot circulate through the ventricles, backs up causing severe congestion of the respiratory system. All of the usual treatment options had been considered, and Pat Cowdry had been put on the heart transplant list. When I met her, a transplant was thought to realistically be her only option. When I performed Battista's procedure on her, I excised a large portion of the thickened muscle surrounding her left ventricle, making it easier for the heart to pump blood around her body. I chose to perform such a radical procedure, purely and simply because it was within my capability to do so. If there had been such a procedure at my disposal which would have saved the life of Henry Mills, I would have adopted said procedure without delay."

"Wouldn't it be more accurate to suggest," George continued, taking back the reins of her cross-examination. "That you were far more concerned, on your first day as the new Medical Director, to make a lasting impression on your new colleagues?" Connie's professional hackles rose immediately. How dare she, how dare this woman suggest that she, Connie Beauchamp, would jeopardise a patient's life all in the name of professional advancement.

"I disagree," She replied firmly. "Pat Cowdry's only remaining option was the Battista. If I hadn't operated on her when I did, very likely she would have died, leaving a fifteen-year-old daughter to be cared for by the state."

"Mrs. Beauchamp," George said a little coolly. "Precisely how many of these operations have you performed during your entire career?"

"Six," Connie answered stonily, knowing exactly what was coming.

"And how many of those patients have survived the procedure?"

"Four," Connie told her with something of a sigh.

"Which would therefore indicate that you are a surgeon who is prepared to take risks, and extremely high risks at that. A pity you didn't see fit to take such risks for my client's husband."

"Ms Channing, please desist in belittling the witness."

"I am merely attempting to make my point stick, My Lord, something that I have no doubt you were good at before your rise to the bench." There was a muttered titter from the public gallery.

"I did at least know the difference between cross-examination and intimidation of a witness, Ms Channing."

"My Lord, I very much doubt that this particular witness could be intimidated by anyone," George replied scathingly.

"Persist in arguing with me, Ms Channing, and I will be forced to consider your behaviour as holding this court in contempt. Is my meaning clear?"

"Perfectly clear, My Lord," George said almost cheerfully before returning to the attack.

"Mrs. Beauchamp," George came back to Connie. "During yesterday's testimony, you stated that you had predicted that Henry Mills would have approximately six months to live. Precisely what led you to that prediction?"

"It might assist the court," Connie replied a little testily. "To explain that where terminally ill patients are concerned, nothing is precise, nothing can possibly be as exact as we would perhaps like it to be. I estimated that Henry Mills had approximately six months to live, because he was not experiencing any severe breathing difficulties, nor was he in any significant pain. His attitude was always positive, which can prolong the life of even the patients who are in their very last days. Henry Mills was still capable of performing the most basic of tasks for himself, and was being cared for at home by his wife. There was absolutely no indication that he would not go on in a similar manner for the next few months."

"Might I take this opportunity to remind you of another patient of yours, a Maggie Thornton, who contracted chemo-resistant lung cancer in December 2004, and who died in January 2005. Considering that her lung cancer was at a very similar stage to that of my client's husband, why did you expect Henry Mills to live longer?" Yet again Connie's eyes widened in shock. Someone really had been talking, and the sooner she found out who it was, the sooner she could verbally rip their head off. Maggie Thornton had been Tricia's friend, whom she'd met during her treatment for breast cancer. Connie remembered the day Maggie had died, because Tricia's screaming at her to resuscitate Maggie haunted her even now.

"I see that you do remember this particular patient," George said with an underlying sympathy that Connie couldn't miss. "What was so different about her, that made attempting to bring back a desperately ill patient after she had arrested, and who had been relying on Morphine to keep her sane?"

"Maggie was a very close friend of one of the nurses on my ward," Connie replied quietly, wondering why George had turned gentle all of a sudden. "And whilst she did have secondary lung cancer, her case wasn't remotely similar to that of Henry Mills. Maggie's cancer was all the more progressive as a result of its being chemo-resistant. When the lung cancer was diagnosed, she was already experiencing breathing difficulties. I brought her back after she'd arrested, against the protests of my registrar, because I was quite literally begged to save her, and on that occasion I chose to bow to compassion, not to practical, medical common sense. If I had been with Henry Mills when he finally died, you can be sure that I would have done everything within my capabilities to resuscitate him if it were at all possible, including counteracting the overdose of Morphine he had received."

"Given therefore that your prediction of Henry Mills life expectancy was so inaccurate, would you consider that he may in fact have actually died from natural causes?" Connie suddenly began to look tired, mentally exhausted by the wringer George was putting her through.

"I cannot agree with that assertion," Connie said firmly. "There would have been signs of his severe deterioration that were not present. Yes, he may have been in a great deal of pain, hence the prescribing of the Diamorphine, but if he remained completely still, he could continue to breathe relatively easily. This is not what I would expect of a man who is about to die."

"Fair enough," George conceded amicably. "But if it is, as you have previously said, virtually impossible to predict how long a person may live with terminal cancer, why are you so certain that Henry Mills died by my client's hand?"

"Henry Mills would not have killed himself," Connie replied with absolute certainty. "I also can't agree that his cancer was what finally killed him. Therefore, he must have died at the hand of another, his wife being the obvious and only choice, as she was the one supposedly caring for him." Her tone was so firm, so assured, that it made Jo wince.

Kay watched on in complete fascination, seeing how George expertly tied Connie Beauchamp in knots, gradually looping the noose around her neck. Whenever she was in court, she was always taking part in the proceedings, delivering expert testimony for the prosecution. But now, today, she was watching from the sidelines, taking almost sadistic pleasure in observing the tactical manoeuvres of the profession she might have inhabited if her destiny had taken her in another direction. She could see the backs of the women in the front row, each of them listening avidly to every single word. Glancing over their heads, Kay caught a good look at the judge who was overseeing this trial, plus the one sat as the winger. So, that was the man whom George had agonised over last night. To Kay, he looked suave, sophisticated, sexy, and utterly guilty of the crime George had caught him committing yesterday afternoon.

"Mrs. Beauchamp, what did you do at the end of your very first day at St. Mary's?" For a moment or two, Connie appeared totally nonplussed.

"I went home, poured a glass of wine, and put my feet up, just like any other normal human being," She answered a little caustically, not seeing the point of such a question.

"Was your assignation with the consultant for general surgery quite so forgettable?" Taken completely by surprise, Connie slightly blushed. How could she forget that hour with Ric after such a difficult day?

"Again, your face answers the question for you," George slightly mocked her. "Do you deny that you ended up having sex with your colleague at the end of your first day?"

"No," Connie said dismissively, now realising the aim of George's shot. "Though I fail to see what relevance it bears to the circumstances of Henry Mills' death."

"She has a point, Ms Channing," John put in stonily. "So please get on with it." George ignored him.

"Would you also deny, that during your time at St. Mary's, you have, as a married woman, engaged in several sexual assignations with numerous consultants and registrars?" Connie's anger began to build. How dared this woman try to make her look like a complete whore in open court?

"I don't see that as being any of the court's business," Connie replied icily.

"Such a display of your true reputation," George told her with an evil smile. "Might just show the court how unprofessional you have the potential to be, wouldn't you say?"

"My private life has no bearing whatsoever on this case," Connie threw back, her rising fury now evident for all to see. George laughed.

"Hardly private if the entire hospital is aware of the favours you will accord up and coming registrars who require either a leg up or a leg over." There was a very female roar of laughter from the public gallery. "Would it not be fair to suggest, that your interest in furthering relations with your colleagues, may on occasion distract you from your professional responsibilities?"

"Ms Channing, that is enough," John thundered at her. "I have warned you twice already this morning. Do that again and I will have you removed."

"Why, My Lord," George replied with sheer recklessness. "Are you trying to suggest, that the higher echelons of a profession don't have highly suspect relationships with either their colleagues or members of the public, and that they don't in fact make a total mockery of the rules and regulations that govern such practices?" John stared stonily back at her. She was pushing him, he could feel it, just daring him to bang her up as he had threatened. He knew only too well that if he did, if he gave into his inclination to slap her in a cell, she would pour out all her anger and bitterness about what he had done to literally anyone who would listen. There was a long, highly charged silence.

"Do you have any further questions, Ms Channing?" John asked quietly, though with a ton of hidden meaning behind his backing down.

"With your permission, My Lord, I have four," George replied in the same polite tone, as though none of their momentary slanging match had ever taken place. "Mrs. Beauchamp," She said, turning back to Connie, and feeling her pulse racing with the after effects of the rage that had just swept through her. "If, as you say, you only spent minimal time with Henry Mills and his wife, during his diagnosis and the discussion of his lack of treatment options, how can you possibly make an accurate assessment of either his or my client's character?"

"Ms Channing," Connie replied dismissively. "I have spent the last twenty years dealing with people and their problems, something that I feel gives me more than adequate experience for making such an assessment, even as in this case, in a very short time."

"Whilst taking your vast experience with patients into account, how can you be so certain that my client is guilty?"

"I have come across many suicidal patients in my time," Connie said quietly but with a firmness in her tone that belied her sombre expression. "And I can assure you, that Henry Mills was not one of them. Not once during the time I spent with him, did he display the type of negative disinterest I would normally associate with a possibly suicidal patient. Henry Mills would not have killed himself, which I believe makes your client as guilty as you appear to think I am of unprofessional conduct." Ignoring this jibe, George asked,

"Have you ever encountered a suicidal patient who, on initial inspection, did not reveal such an inclination?"

"Of course I have," Connie replied without thinking. "Patients don't fit into a particular mould. They are people, just like you and me, all capable of doing what you don't expect of them."

"Would you therefore concede," George said extremely carefully. "That you may have been wrong to believe so unerringly in my client's guilt?" Realising the trap that she had just fallen into, Connie remained quiet. "Is it not possible," George cajoled her, seeing the belief beginning to crack. "That Henry Mills could only have decided on his way out of his illness, long after you saw him, long after you decided that his positive attitude would remain within until the end? Isn't it just within the bounds of realistic belief, to accept that he may eventually have come to see that injecting himself with Diamorphine was the only suitable end to his unending pain?" When Connie's shoulders ever so slightly slumped, George knew that her prey was caught.

"Yes," Connie said quietly, though loud enough for the court to hear. "I would give it very long odds, but there were three months between when I last saw Henry and when he died."

"Thank you," George told her, meaning every syllable with all her heart.

When court adjourned for lunch, George felt as though every shred of her energy had deserted her. Making her way immediately outside, she was relieved to find that it wasn't raining. Sitting down on one of the benches that weren't often frequented at this time of year, she lit a cigarette. She had almost lost it back there, feeling a sudden urge to tear John limb from limb for what he'd done. But thankfully they had both managed to control their need to punish. As she sat there, she was disturbed in her musings by the arrival of someone else. Connie had walked out of court, thinking that even at this time of the day, a large scotch would probably do her the world of good. But when she saw George sitting by herself and smoking, Connie felt a need to clear the air.

When Connie sat down beside her, George gave her half a smile.

"You did extremely well this morning. I was impressed."

"Well," Connie replied with her own ascent to civility. "It isn't often that I get the opportunity to fight against an equal."

"I should imagine that many of your staff are no contest."

"No," Connie replied a little disgustedly. "Though one of them is about to be given the chance to explain themselves."

"You want to know who's been talking?" George said, realising that this was the point of Connie's approaching her.

"I expect I have no right to ask," Connie replied digging out her own packet of cigarettes.

"That isn't a habit I would expect to see in a heart surgeon," George commented in surprise.

"And I wouldn't expect a silk to risk being put on remand for contempt," Connie countered back with a shrug. "But there you are."

"Touché," George conceded dryly. Then, after taking another long drag, she said, "If I do tell you from whom I acquired several very interesting facts about you, not all of which I used this morning, I shall expect you to do something for me."

"I wouldn't expect any different from you, Ms Channing," Connie replied coolly.

"Obtain cover for yourself on Thursday, and be in the public gallery to hear Barbara's testimony, which I should imagine will take all day. Only then will you be able to see how wrong you were." If Connie was honest with herself, she might have known that this would be the name of the bargain. Taking a thoughtful drag of her cigarette, Connie conceded to herself that it was the least she could do.

"Okay," She said eventually. "You have a deal." Ditching her cigarette end into the ornamental fountain, George said,

"Will Curtis was very forthcoming about you, almost tripped over his words in his haste to blacken your reputation." Connie's face had hardened at the first syllable of Will's name. The treacherous little worm! "I see that he'll be duly punished for his indiscretions," George added with a slight smirk.

"You're bloody right he will," Connie said icily. "I'll put him on cadaver practice for a month for this."

"I suppose I ought to feel sorry for him," George replied with a smile. Then, after a short silence, Connie asked,

"George, apart from the obvious, what did I do?" By these words, and the slightly hesitant tone in which they were uttered, George knew that Connie was referring to what had happened the day before. Connie clearly wanted an explanation of the rage George had displayed that morning, something she wouldn't usually bother to enquire for.

"Connie, you didn't just help John to betray one woman, but two, the other of which is not currently in an emotionally stable enough position to deal with it. I accept that you knew nothing of the sort, but in cross-examining you this morning, it was far too easy to throw my anger at you than it will be at John. It's not something I'm especially proud of, but I expect you might have done the same."

"Yes," Connie agreed amicably. "I have done, on numerous occasions, especially when my husband's infidelity leads him to become acquainted with my staff."

"Is that why you also make a similar acquaintance with various registrars?"

"They occasionally provide a delightful distraction at the end of a difficult day," Connie admitted with a smile, feeling no shame at what she did on a regular basis. After another thoughtful silence, Connie asked, "Does he know about your lump?" Immediately George's expression became closed, as though she was inwardly struggling to keep her feelings hidden. She wished with all her heart that Connie didn't know about this.

"No, he doesn't," She said a little coldly. "And at least until this trial is over, that's the way it needs to stay."

"George, you really can't go on ignoring it the way you have been," Connie told her gently but firmly. "I know how frightening it must be..."

"No, you have absolutely no idea," George interrupted vehemently.

"Do you seriously think I've learnt nothing during my years in the medical profession?" Connie demanded just as vehemently.

"Learning a thing and actually feeling it are two very different things," George assured her bitterly.

"George, I can't make you take any possible outcome seriously, but I urge you to do something about it as soon as possible."

"Don't you think I've thought about every possible outcome?" George demanded, the rising fear bringing tears to her eyes. "Every minute of every day that isn't spent thinking about something else, is haunted by what they may eventually have to do to me."

"The longer you leave it, the worse it will be," Connie told her persuasively. George was about to reply, when she saw Kay walking towards them. Forcing her cheerful mask to slip back into place, she greeted Kay as she walked up to the bench where they were sitting.

As Kay had walked towards where George and Connie were talking, she had seen that brief look of terrified anguish on George's face, and couldn't help wondering what they had been discussing.

"That was some performance," Kay said when she reached them, digging out her own cigarettes as she did.

"It felt to me like a twelve hour operation spent in the spotlight," Connie said ruefully. "You're working with Professor Khan's medical students, aren't you?" Connie asked.

"Yes," Kay replied amicably. "I think I'm shattering all their illusions before they even start."

"Which won't do them any harm in the slightest," Connie said firmly. "Would you like a lift back to the hospital, or are you staying for this afternoon?"

"I have a lecture to give this afternoon," Kay told her. "So a lift would be much appreciated." As they got up to go, Kay briefly rested a hand on George's shoulder. "I'll see you later," She said kindly, thinking that George looked utterly exhausted.

"Thank you for being here this morning," George said to her. As she watched Kay and Connie walk towards a silver-grey Jaguar, she saw the other occupants of the public gallery coming out for their own nicotine fix. Walking over to the group of five women, she said, "I didn't know you were all here."

"I wouldn't have missed that for the world," Helen told her, wondering what the Judge had been up to, to bring about such a display of fury in George.

"You sailed a bit close to the edge there," Karen told her fondly. "I almost expected to have to take you back to Larkhall with me."

"He wouldn't have dared," Yvonne said with total assuredness. "He'd have had us to answer to if he had."

Part Eighty-Two

"Come on. Court's starting in three minutes time." Karen firmly pronounced to the others as she checked her watch. She was the first to stub her cigarette out

Helen grinned at Karen's air of command which threw up, in sharp relief, the way her years as a psychologist had mellowed her and bluntened that need to take command of a situation. She gestured to Karen to lead the way and, by collective response, the others followed in behind her. Imperceptibly, a heightened feeling of anticipation crept in amongst the group of five women as they passed into the foyer

Bodybag had walked into the foyer of the Old Bailey, her head held high in the air with that sniffish look of disdain more pronounced than normal. She had appeared in court before and the one thought sustained her was that she was the expert on prisoners. She had looked after them for fifteen years and she knew their ways and in particular that Hunt woman whose card she'd marked years before. She'd seen prisoners come and go and return again and the years of experience had told her that, once a con, always a con or else you never went to prison in the first place. No matter how snooty those two women barristers she'd be up against, there was no substitute for experience and, this time, she would speak her mind no matter what that well meaning man was nagging her about all the time to be careful what she said. He did go on at her, she sighed to herself. He was a typical man , a bit like her Bobby, who would prefer not to let her handle these situations. When she entered the foyer, she blinked at the dim light inside and was confused by the sense of hurly burly of criss crossing people. It took her a little while to feel her way forward through the crowd when , from behind her back, grated that hated voice.

"Hey, Bodybag, glad you've dropped in."

She turned round on her heel to gape as Yvonne appeared out of nowhere. Next to her, Helen was rooted to the spot, her face set rigid. Further to the right, Karen's expression was impassive but hardly welcoming. Together with two other troublemakers, this was all she needed.

"I'm only doing my job, Atkins. Somebody's got to." Bodybag said pompously

"So were the SS." Came the whiplash retort from a smaller blond haired woman to Yvonne's left while Roisin laughed boldly at her face.

"So, I'm stuck with some ex cons and their bosom buddy. Nothing changes."

"Sylvia, for your own good, you had better take yourself elsewhere now because I won't be answerable for the consequences if you don't."

Even while Helen glared at Bodybag, Karen's crack of authority in her voice got through to her that perhaps she would feel safer somewhere else but she couldn't resist trying to have the last word.

"You'll never change her. You should know that you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

It was as much as Karen could do to stop herself smacking the stupid malicious woman across the face but instead, with a supreme force of will, she put her hand in front of the others. She could feel the solid wall of loathing flame up alongside her. A coldly analytical corner of her mind told her that there was no need to exact private vengeance, as she knew that Jo and George would make mincemeat out of her.

"I just hope you're still sure about why you're doing this, because you're sure as hell about to find out."

At that, Karen stormed off, leading the others in the direction of the staircase to the visitor's gallery while Bodybag gaped in astonishment. What Madam had said was as clear as a cloud to her because, as far as she was concerned, she was going to tell the court everything she knew and she would settle old scores once and for all. Fate preserved her from further trouble as the solicitor anxiously gestured her to come to the entrance of the court. Eager to be there on time, she scuttled along.

"If she'd have stayed there one minute longer, I'd have killed her." Hissed Helen under her breath as she clattered up the staircase.

"You can get banged up for doing things like killing people," Laughed Yvonne at Helen of all people vowing death to that stupid waste of space. She was starting to calm down a bit as she recalled the way that George had outsmarted that very sharp witted and attractive doctor of theirs. Bodybag would be a pushover in comparison.

"Never mind her, she'll get what's coming to her, Helen." She added.

Behind his half closed eyelids, John looked watchfully round at the courtroom as Bodybag took her place. He took the measure at her air of self-importance and remembered that utterly reactionary prison officer at Larkhall prison. It felt utterly incongruous to see her out of her normal context and invading his instead. He ran his eye round the visitor's gallery and intoned the formula to start proceedings. Brian Cantwell looked fairly smug with himself as he was readying himself to lead off his questioning.

"Mrs. Hollamby, can you tell the court your occupation?"

"I am a prison officer at Her Majesty's Prison Larkhall."

"And how long have you worked in the prison service?"

Bodybag hesitated and looked vague for a second as she ran her mental calendar backwards in time. It all seemed a long time ago since she had first started work.

"Let me think, I think it is now fifteen years."

"And what was your previous occupation?"

"I was a traffic warden."

Yvonne couldn't resist sniggering under her breath.

"Hey, Karen, you never told us that one."

"I don't like looking in Sylvia's personnel file more than I have to. Would you have done if you didn't have to, Helen?"

"You might have found all the juicy bits and told us all. You're a real spoilsport, miss."

"This is Sylvia you are talking about, Yvonne." retorted Karen with raised eyebrow. "More bungling incompetence than I care to read about but no lurid sexual scandals. That woman hasn't lived."

Helen's lips curved slightly at the air of smugness with which Karen delivered her final judgment and they studiously ignored the air of priggish disapproval from Laurence James and the venomous glares from Greg and Amanda.

"Why did you choose to move to the prison service?" Brian Cantwell continued.

"It was my Bobby, my late husband who used to work for the prison service. He kept on telling me 'Sylvia, your talents are simply wasted plodding the beat and sticking tickets on careless drivers who are too lazy to find the nearest car park. The prison service is simply crying out for people with the necessary firmness and dedication to make sure that the criminal fraternity are properly dealt with, people with eyes in the back of their head.' He was right too. I had got fed up of being rained on in the winter and getting abuse in doing a thankless job and I thought I'd take myself to an occupation to where my talents are better appreciated."

"I've always thought that Bodybag was a Martian." Whispered Cassie.

"Her husband had a lot to answer for. Just think of it, if only he hadn't stuck his oar in she'd have been left to terrorise some poor unfortunate driver instead." Put in Helen.

Unfortunately, Helen had never mastered the knack of keeping her voice down and the acoustics of the hard stone court chamber projected her words to perfection. Her 'stage whisper' could be heard by the jury who grinned and also by John at the far end of the courtroom. His gaze had been focused away from George who was smiling scornfully, veered sharply and homed in on Helen. She only smiled sweetly and disarmingly back at John while Brian Cantwell kept his face straight and stuck to his batting order of questions.

"What was your first impression on meeting Barbara Mills?"

"She gave the impression of being very saintly and too good to be true. I know her type from a lifetime of experience. For that reason, I decided to keep my eye on her."

"What have you observed to be her usual behaviour whilst on remand?"

"I found it very strange for someone with her Christian background and what she was accused of." Bodybag proclaimed with infinite smugness causing a collective wince at her heavy-handed emphasis on the word 'Christian.' "She got very pally with the more hardened criminals. There was never anything I could pin on her but it was obvious that she was one of those prisoners who kept her head down but schemed away to her heart's content."

"How has she behaved to you in particular?" Brian Cantwell said patiently, eager to pin this woman down to specifics and bolster up her case."

"With total disrespect. She always questioned the slightest order I gave her and was always ready with backchat. It was almost as if she would disagree for disagreeing's sake. She was at her worst when her 'friends' were around. I think she enjoyed playing to the gallery. Her educated background only made her a worse troublemaker than nature made her."

"Hear hear." Greg instantly loudly proclaimed in ringing tones as the mood in the gallery was instantly polarized.

"This is a court of law and not the bear pit of the House of Commons on a particularly bad night." John fired back curtly. "Kindly hold your tongue or you will be forcibly removed."

Sir Ian and Lawrence James glared at John for his unfortunate choice of words while Monty looked stonily back at them.

"I have done nothing wrong." Greg persisted while Amanda pulled at the sleeve of her hot-tempered brother.

"It is we on the bench who are the best judge of that. We have both right and power to remove anyone, and I mean anyone, whose behaviour does not show respect for the court." Growled Monty whose own anger smouldered and his gaze was fixed on Sir Ian and Lawrence James.

"Keep schtum, everyone." Whispered Yvonne out of the side of her mouth. She was boiling over with rage to hear the crass way that that evil cow badmouthed Julies and Denny but felt that the iron determination from the bench was fully determined to strike down even those stuck up civil servants behind her. She knew that they weren't kidding. "It's our turn now."

The icy silence seemed to hang on the air and Bodybag smiled to herself in immense self-satisfaction. She felt that she had done a good job in subtly undermining the image that Barbara presented of being the poor hard done by victim and placed her hands on the bars of the witness stand in self satisfaction. Jo rose to her feet, fully prepared to dispense with polite preliminaries in asking her first question.

"Taking your fifteen years experience into account, why haven't you ever been promoted?"

This question confused Bodybag as she wasn't expecting it.

"I, erm, I'm not the ambitious go getting type. I've brought up three children and my husband's career came first. I'm happy just to work on the coal face, as it were."

"………And badmouth everyone and skive." Muttered Karen under her breath.

"In all your long experience, has a prisoner in your charge, ever managed to get the better of you?" came the casually delivered question from the taller of the two women with a slight smile on her lips.

"Not that I can remember."

To Bodybag's surprise, her questioner promptly sat down and the smaller of the two women moved to the side of the long bench, edging forward with a hard menacing smile on her lips.

"Are you absolutely sure about that?"

"Of course I am."

"However, you were in fact demoted, were you not. Please would you enlighten the court, as to the circumstances of your demotion?"

"I'm not sure why you're asking me this question. It's got nothing to do with Mrs. Hunt, I mean Mills."

"Let me put it another way. Would you like to tell the court, about the night that Sharon Wiley and Daniella Blood locked you in their cell? Is it really true that you had to hand over your keys in order for them to let you out?"

"It was just an unfortunate accident. I got tricked by two particularly cunning and malicious prisoners into being locked into their cell. I had been working a lot of extra shifts to cover absences and I was tired and a bit slow. I didn't realize what they were doing at first……" stammered Bodybag.

"……..Despite the eyes in the back of your head." murmured George just loudly enough.

"…….they were on the outside and the only way I could deal with the situation quickly was get them to agree to hand over the keys so that they could unlock me. They let me out a bit later after they had disappeared for a bit. It was totally unfair as all I was trying to do was to do my job properly and investigate some suspicious goings on by two prisoners whom I'd had my eye on."

"Three cheers for Denny, eh" grinned Yvonne.

With great satisfaction, John placed the vivid memories of that long ago conversation with Denny next to the event so dispassionately recorded.

"Just how long were the two prisoners away from your cell, Mrs. Hollamby?" George's voice arched up and down the scales in malicious pleasure while Brian Cantwell stood, stony faced. This idiot woman had never told him about this prison version of a Whitehall farce despite his persistent questions.

"An hour or so." Mumbled Bodybag under her breath. "This was all a very long time ago and I can't be expected to remember every little last detail of my working life. It might have been less than that."

George's wide and sweeping theatrical gesture to the jury smile milked the implausibility of Bodybag's over eager protestations while five women looked down at her from the gallery in mixed amusement and contempt.

"Let's move on to another incident in your long and distinguished career. Just out of pure interest, how did it come about that you were reinstated?"

"Well, I was able to resolve a difficult problem at work as the POA representative."

"For the benefit of the jury, can you explain what the initials stand for, Mrs. Hollamby," John broke in, just beating George to the question by a fraction of a second. He had been dying to say something for ages and gave way to that irresistible temptation.

"I apologise, my Lord. The POA is a union and stands for the Prison Officer's Association. I hope I have made myself clear."

"Carry on, Mrs Hollamby."

"It all started when a particularly violent criminal had stabbed a long standing, well respected pillar of the prison service." Bodybag started to say very slowly, feeling for the right words and noticing Helen's and Karen's intense stare at her, which was about to turn to total fury. "The powers that be had been let her off very lightly with a slap on the wrist when she was as guilty as sin. All the prison officers felt strongly about it and I could certainly see their point of view so we went on strike as a protest until she was properly dealt with."

"Go on." John urged to George's theatrical sigh and Jo's flash of irritation.

"John," muttered Monty, leaning over towards him." You must let council carry on with the cross examination and not take over from them."

John blinked with surprise as if Monty had made the most blindingly obvious suggestion.

"Of course, Monty."

"Well, tempers were high, I can tell you. It wasn't till later when things had cooled down a bit when Mr. Stubberfield came to talk to me as the POA representative. We came to an understanding and he agreed that I had been discriminated against and that reinstating me to my proper rank would be a gesture of appreciation."

"I'm sorry, Mrs. Hollamby, you've completely lost me and I suspect, the jury also. For a start, what happened to the prisoner? Was she suitably chastised and punished by the prison authorities?"

"Er, I don't remember." Bodybag stammered.

"How very convenient. So can you explain what possible connection is there between the supposed lenient treatment of a prisoner for a serious crime , your reinstatement and the strike being called off ? The three simply don't go together."

"All I can say is that Shell Dockley made sure she kept her head down and stopped bragging about the stabbing and that my reinstatement cooled feelings down."

John suddenly sat up bolt upright in his throne as a series of mental images rushed back in front of his waking eyes of when she had broken into Karen's flat and he had helplessly watched from the sidelines while Karen patiently negotiated for his safety. He seemed to stare at something infinitely far away.

"So it was the case of a you scratch the governor's back and he'll scratch yours, Mrs. Hollamby?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"After all, Mrs. Hollamby, you were the spokesman of the strikers and not the instigator, were you not?"

"John," murmured Monty, leaning over to him to seek his intervention against George's leading question. He was surprised that the normally alert John was frozen, unresponsive and therefore intervened on his own account.

"I think Ms.Channing that you are asking a leading question. You know that you should not be doing that."

"I apologise, my Lord." George responded graciously with perfect poise. "I shall rephrase my question in more acceptable terms. How can you account for the fact that you alone benefited from this deal with Mr. Stubberfield with nothing else gained while you claim to have only represented your fellow prison officers and had no vested interests?"

"Believe what you want,"Bodybag retorted with more spirit than Karen would have credited her with. "I can only say that I saw what I saw."

"I'm sure the jury understands very well exactly what has happened." George retorted in her most crushingly sarcastic tones, turning to the jury who exchanged meaningful glances and stepping backwards for Jo to take up the attack.

"What is your general approach to gaining a prisoner's trust?" Jo asked in the mildest possible fashion.

"I beg your pardon."

"I was making a general enquiry for the benefit of the jury as to your approach to prisoners in how you set about gaining their trust if you don't mind me asking."

"Hmmh. They have to gain my trust first before I'll trust them. For example, if they get the privilege of making the tea and spring-cleaning the PO's room, spring comes every day of the year and I'm very fussy about the milk and sugar. If they do that correctly, then they're in a different class than the run of the mill cons."

"So what type of prisoner do you find easiest to deal with?"

"Well, I suppose I find that those prisoners who do as I say and don't ask awkward questions will get my favour."

Brian Cantwell cringed at the connotations of patronage by grace and favour but Jo surprisingly ignored the obvious opening and politely carried on.

"Has Barbara Mills ever caused you any direct trouble during her stay in prison?"

"Not exactly."

"Is that a yes or a no, and please bear in mind that you are under oath, and that I do have in front of me, Barbara's prison record."

"Well, nothing that I could definitely pin on her."

"So taking into account that you generally prefer those prisoners who don't cause you any problems, would you like to tell the court why, you admitted a known very violent inmate, onto an open accommodation wing, whilst assuming she was in fact my client?" George jumped in, the edge of steel in her voice springing the trap that Jo had set up.

John was struck by the diamond sharp precision in the way that Jo and George shifted positions and the way that their different styles meshed together to constantly shift the focus of attack. It gave John the perfect excuse to stick his oar in.

"Is this a case of good guy and bad guy?"

"No my Lord. We just work together well as a team."

The sheer smugness with which Jo came out with this line and the broad grin on George's face made John slightly smile to himself in contrast to the way that at one time they fought tooth and nail. John admired very much the teamwork that they enjoyed and, even in the tense cut and thrust of the trial, it occurred to him to recall that outside the court and in bed, the pleasure they had enjoyed when he had joined in with them.

"So how did yet another incident in your very badly spotted record come to take place?" George pursued relentlessly.

"That was an accident." Stammered Bodybag, visibly sweating. "Some fool from Newby prison didn't send the papers with the two prisoners, Barbara Hunt and Tessa Spall. I mean one of them was kicking up a dickens of a row and we didn't know that Barbara Hunt suffered from claustrophobia. It was easy for Tessa Spall, the violent inmate, to deceive us in being as meek as a lamb and to get the two prisoners mixed up. Anyone would have done it."

"So, considering your own evidence of your performance as a prison officer over the years, do you consider that you have an expert opinion, when it comes to the assessment of the prisoners in your charge?"

"If I get the paperwork on time, yes." Bodybag snapped back defiantly.

"How professional would you say your considered opinion really was, on the night that Carol Byatt told you she needed a doctor?" George slid in smoothly.

"What do you mean?"

"If I understand it correctly, she called out to you that she was bleeding and yet you deliberately ignored her so that she miscarried in the night."

"She never did. She was tired and didn't want to leave her cell but bleeding? She never told me that. In any case, she had a bad reputation for time wasting."

Helen's temper flamed uncontrollably and with the full force of her lungs, hurled her accusation right into Bodybag's face. Her eyes focused on nothing else but that hated woman and her mind froze on that first emotionally scarring crisis at Larkhall and demanded that she should say at last what had been left unsaid.

"You're telling a complete pack of lies, Sylvia. You left that woman because you couldn't be bothered and thanks to you, she nearly bled to death."

Bodybag's face turned white as those words echoed down the years from another hated trouble maker who now outranked her.

"Do you want to spend the night in the local remand prison?" John enquired of Helen, staring intently at her.

Helen blinked her eyes as John's quiet words had been like a bucketful of water thrown in her face. She remembered who and where she was and that agile mind of a psychologist came to her rescue. Conscious of her friends around her and with the most innocent smile that she could summon up ,Helen retorted to the accompaniment of laughter from the other women.

"Not really, judge. The room service isn't up to much."

John smiled at that rare moment of lightheartedness and indulgently permitted a brief burst of laughter from the other women. It gave the court just enough time to settle down before Jo resumed, switching her point of attack yet again.

"Let's consider the charges laid against my client of taking the life of her husband, Henry Mills, who was dearest to her heart and whose death may have caused her, in your words, to 'keep her head down', perhaps out of grief at her loss. In this so called professional opinion of yours, what makes you so certain, that my client is guilty?"

Jo's question was phrased in restrained tones though with a slight resonance. It was her reference for Barbara's love for her late husband that hit a sensitive nerve in Bodybag, the memory that he once rejected her amorous advances in place of a con. Her face was suddenly distorted with rage as she totally lost control to the surprise of the court.

"I know how guilty she is as she's done it before. I mean she murdered her second husband and still married to her first. I know she did it to get her hands on his millions and she was locked up in Larkhall before. That's why I know her so well."

"That's right, she killed our father," shouted out Greg. "She cannot be allowed to get away with it. My sister and I demand justice."

"You snotty nosed hypocrites and money grabbing bastards."Yelled Yvonne at the top of her voice. "You come over so high and mighty and the only thing Babs spent money on before you stole it was a half way house for some of the girls who get out with no homes to go to….."

"All of you in the gallery will all shut up right now," thundered John, absolutely livid with rage. The uproar was all the more devastating as it had suddenly blown up from nowhere. Instinctively he knew that he had to quell the uproar from the balcony first before he could deal with the rest of the disorder in segments. "If any of you say one more word, I'll have you locked up for contempt of court and I'll throw away the key."

The sounds were snuffed out as if a candle was extinguished and the only faint sounds were the reverberating sounds of the ceiling lights. A sudden hush highlighted the bedlam of a few seconds before.

"Can the jury be cleared from court and you will wait in the jury room until you are called back." Growled Monty. "We have urgent business to dispose of."

"Thanks Monty." John whispered in an aside as the twelve of them shuffled out and were led away. While this happened, Karen seethed inwardly with rage at the way that Bodybag had let down the good name of the prison service and that she was compelled to keep quiet. Doesn't she care at the mayhem she's caused, Helen wondered inwardly? Jo and George shook their heads incredulously at what had been suddenly unleashed while Brian Cantwell felt as if he could sink through the floor in embarrassment.

"Mrs Hollamby, what I find myself at a loss to explain is whether your stupidity is greater than your sheer maliciousness. I would expect a public servant to have testified in court before to have a basic idea of what can or cannot be said in court and also someone who will have been guided by her council. Mr Cantwell," he added as he saw him about to stand up to extricate himself from any blame. "You have appeared before me on numerous occasions and while we haven't always seen eye to eye, I know you well enough just where to apportion blame in this particular case. Please believe me when I say that I know that you are entirely innocent of any involvement in this utter shambles. Mrs Hollamby, I am cutting short your testimony as I am of the firm belief that you have nothing left to contribute to this trial if indeed you ever had anything useful to say in the first place. On a personal note, I have to tell you that I don't like bigoted, prejudiced petty dictators who aren't fit to give evidence in a court of law. You will get out of this court and never dare set foot in this court while you appear before me or, I fancy any other judge. Just go."

Bodybag heard with horror the tones of the judge as it built up in intensity and encapsulated all her experiences of being on the receiving end of all the firm discipline she had advocated all through her life. She started to break down in tears and ran for the exit.

"You've lost this case for us." Brian Cantwell hissed at her as she scuttled past.

"And now, I want to see council in chambers immediately. The court is adjourned."

John's tones of voice, though more subdued, was as firm and determined as anything he had said in his life. Everyone looked at each other in a dazed fashion. It felt as if a bomb had exploded and everyone felt totally numb as they picked up the pieces of themselves to put themselves together.

Part Eighty-Three

Sir Ian and Lawrence James shot to their feet and clattered out of the visitor's gallery. They moved in much more of a flurry of haste than mandarins were apt to display in public. They marched down the staircase, tight lipped. They had their own agenda to pursue.

"Jesus Helen, you were really pushing it." Yvonne exclaimed in astonishment at the sight of the former Miss Stewart defying authority so blatently. "You're lucky to still be here. George would have been banged up for less."

"I don't care, Yvonne. She had it coming to her for a long long time."

"What do you mean, Helen?" Karen asked quietly. She had heard scattered fragments of the story about Carol Byatt but never anything from Helen despite their renewed friendship.

"It all happened before your time, Karen. You heard the bare facts as to what happened. Well, I went to see Carol in hospital and then asked Sylvia for her side of the story. It doesn't take rocket science to work out that she lied through her teeth and, of course, Jim Fenner backed her up. Rightly or wrongly, I called for a full wing meeting to show that I cared and I tried to reassure everyone that Carol was fine and that there would be a thorough investigation. When it came to the crunch to tell the wing what I would do about it, both of those bastards just looked at me, daring me to let down the prison officers. Out of stupid, foolish loyalty to them, I denied what I knew in my heart but had no proof of. Nikki was there and she hit the roof and told me that we should all be sacked and that Carol nearly bled to death."

"Just what you told the court today, Helen." Came Yvonne's incredibly tender voice. She could tell how haunted Helen was by the memory of doing the wrong thing despite her best intentions.

"That memory has haunted me and, to tell you the truth, the reason why I was dead against Nikki taking on G Wing."

"But Nikki's learnt from what you have told her and what she's seen with her own eyes. She's not the woman you were." Karen said softly while Roisin and Cassie hovered protectively around her.

"That's what I worked out after a lot of soul searching. At first, logic went clean out the window compared to what I felt." Helen finished at last. The sense of sympathy was palpable and wrapped itself round her.

"At least there's one good thing about it, Helen. It ain't as if you're going to be hobnobbing with the judge so long as you keep your head down."

Helen smiled weakly. For once in her life, there was something that Yvonne didn't know. She would have to work that one out when he came to be the patient in need of her help and wisdom and she was the professional psychologist. Right now, she didn't feel all that certain of anything or wise.

Tight lipped, John and Monty stalked down the corridor to the chambers. There was a sensation like that of a vortex which would funnel in inflamed barristers, seething politicians and who knew what else into that narrow space.

"Your chambers, John." Came the curt words to which John nodded assent.

It took no time for the crowd to assemble and the tension built up like a lowering thunderstorm, huge clouds hovering overhead waiting for the first spark. Sir Ian lit it.

"This trial has descended into a total farce. It's time to end it."

"You mean, that the defence has no case to answer and set Barbara free. I could be persuaded to that point of view."

"That is not what I meant. The trial should be abandoned and be reconvened far away from here. That was my original wish."

"I do not see any intrinsic reasons why we should be so precipitate. I've continued with far rockier trials and come out at the end of it with a verdict."

"We all know about your unique and dare I say, maverick ways of conducting trials. Others amongst us are not so rash and foolhardy."

"The trial is about seeking justice, concepts in which I was trained in many years ago."

"So what's happened to your master plan to control the case? We told you that the wretched case should have been packed off to some distant court hundreds of miles away from us only you wouldn't listen."

"Nothing has gone wrong with the trial that can't be sorted out. Our strategy is sound. We have only struck trouble due to that idiot of a witness that Mr. Cantwell dragged in."

"Oh so it's my fault, John. What's happened to all those high minded words you said in court?"

"You weren't to blame for deliberately bringing in your witness to cause mayhem. You considered her in good faith. It's just that……"

"But what, John."

"You were a bit over eager to believe everything she said. Your judgment wasn't good. In your situation, I would have spotted trouble coming a mile away." John said dismissively.

George watched as a detached onlooker in fascination. She had crossed swords with John in the past when she was a different person, when she was, quite frankly, doing Neil's dirty work for him as the establishment's hired mercenary but she was another person then. What struck her that, behind John's occasionally mischievous remarks, was his fixed will towards human decency and justice. She had never wanted to be impressed by these values, unlike Jo who was much more emotional about these things than she let herself be. But why, oh why did that infuriatingly attractive exasperating man screw it all up by shagging some long legged female consultant who happened to be Connie Beauchamp, a woman who to her eye was more guarded than she had ever been? Despite her conflicted feelings, she couldn't help but warm to him and stand by him , especially right now when she could feel at last the force of the political pressure on him as a real emotion. Finally, she got to intervene rather than just observe.

"Don't we get a look in?" she cut in at the decisive moment when the hubbub of male voices paused for a second.

"What do you want, George?" Brian Cantwell snapped back with a nasty edge to his voice.

"Only that your case seems so hopelessly compromised by the antics of your witnesses that I would be surprised to see you carry on in case you get laughed out of court by the jury."

"We still have conclusive evidence, George in case you hadn't noticed. I demand that you back me up on this one, John."

"Which I tore apart both this morning and yesterday."

"Oh so you want my opinion and that we carry on with the case?"

"Nobody said that I didn't want your help, John. It's just that I feel entitled to some of the fair mindedness that you keep preaching about."

"And, speaking for the Lord Chancellor's Department, we want no more threats of having us jailed for contempt."

"What's wrong with that? I've done it before to one of you."

"That's not the point."

"In any case, you thought I was talking specifically about you. Remember the proverb 'qui s'excuse, s'accuse.'"

"Oh what does that mean in plain English?"

"I was making a general observation to the entire gallery and if no one but you, Ian, responded to it then it must apply to you."

"So this is your idea of justice, John."

"Put it another way, if the cap fits, wear it."

"I was really wondering what all you masterful men were planning on doing with the trial. I assume that this was what we're here for." George's voice chimed in again with a sarcastic edge to her tone.

"We are." Grunted Monty who was feeling a bit left out frustrated at not being able to

get a word in edgeways. It was worse than he was with Vera even when she was in full flow.

"I've got a bone to pick with you, John. Why the devil didn't you tell me about Barbara's previous conviction? I have a right to know such matters."

" I didn't think it was necessary. Besides, there was quite enough of a perceived problem with a trial featuring someone who all of us knew in a private capacity, not just one or two but the entire London circuit."

"This is shoddy behaviour. Damned shoddy and a breach of trust between us." Monty rumbled on.

"What's the problem, Monty? She wasn't the only ex prisoner in the orchestra?"

"What do you mean, John?" Sir Ian asked in icy tones.

"Just what I said, Ian. You accepted everyone who came into the orchestra who you didn't know before and they behaved themselves impeccably, In fact I can't remember them passing around malicious notes as you and your worthy confederate did like spiteful schoolboys in class until George exposed you. The truth of the matter is that her presence is simply an embarrassment to you, an acquaintance that was temporarily in your circle but there's more to it than that. She was one of us, a fellow musician that was bound to in ways that no non-musician could possibly feel and you know it. This trial has presented Monty and I and others with the exact same problem. You just haven't the guts to face it but take the easy way out just as you always do in life."

John had bottled down his anger and frustration but after starting to retort in cold cutting perfectly accentuated tones he built it up to a climax of controlled anger. He couldn't help it but sometimes his impulses overcame his sense of what was judicious. Somehow, Ian's weak and spineless nature was never clearer to him as it was right then and, in typical fashion, he slipped away from any unpleasantness.

"That's as maybe, John but I am shocked at your behaviour." Monty cut in. He had taken in everything John had said but was still hurt by John's apparent lack of trust in him.

"Monty, I acted as I did only to help you. I chose to shoulder the discomfort of this extra knowledge on my own, rightly or wrongly. What we have to do now is to look to the future as to how to handle this trial. The two of us have to work out a clear course of action for the future."

Coope was used to walking the quiet cloistered corridors of the judiciary and found the atmosphere generally soothing. Even with working for a wayward though kindly master, the natural rhythms of the court helped to relax her. After all, she was on the periphery of the court dramas and a systematic organized mind was the ideal requirement and not the actorish flamboyance of the judges she worked for. What she found unusual was the confused sounds of many angry voices as she walked behind the judge's thrones. It seemed to emanate from one of the chambers and it sounded like Prime Minister's question time at its most argumentative. As she got closer, she could occasionally pick out John's voice, which reassured her in a strange fashion. At least there was some responsible person in charge if you stretched the definition to of the word to include his wayward conduct in terms of his private life. She was intending to drop a file in John's in tray but thought she might not be altogether welcome. She had a brainwave in remembering that the door didn't meet flush with the floor and that the file was thin. Crouching down, she slid the file, bit by bit under the door and, on the other side, the brown rectangular shape slid neatly into view and grew and grew to its full length. She shrugged her shoulders and reasoned that, of the gaggle of judges and barristers in the room, one of them ought to be able to take charge of it. Unfortunately, the incandescent mood found the soundless appearance of the file a meaningless irrelevance even if it had been spotted. As Coope returned to the court chamber to busy herself, Joe Channing bustled towards her, the jungle telegraph having picked up the sounds of warfare.

"We're no further forward in this meeting than we were when we started." Snapped Sir Ian. "The situation is intolerably farcical and a complete mess. I'm surprised the press don't get hold of this and feature this with the caption 'Carry On, Larkhall.'"

"Except that this is no comedy, Sir Ian and what no one seems to be talking about is that a woman stands accused of the murder of her husband and that needs resolving."

"Jo and I have been standing on the sidelines hearing some of you come out with as much hot air that would fill a huge balloon, John. We are determined that the best interests of justice and of our client are served by the trial continuing and the relevant evidence of that frightful woman be wiped from the record."

"Of course, we aren't criticising you, John. From beginning to end, you have been totally masterful and in superb form." Jo chimed in, her voice oozing syrup. George's smile of appreciation at the way Jo was laying on the charm was a bit forced given the circumstances but she trusted that no one would see through her act.

"An excellently simple solution to the dilemma. I think that we could proceed on this basis."

"But the political consequences of this trial are frightful. For a start, we run the risk of the papers finding out our connections with the accused. I demand that there is a retrial and by a court that is as far removed from us as it is possible to be." Exploded Sir Ian.

"So that's the game, Ian. It all comes down to saving your political skin, nothing to do with the rest of us and certainly nothing to do with the needs of justice to the accused. We cannot let this charge hang over Barbara's name for another six months or so. Yes Sir Ian, her name is Barbara Mills and just to remind you, the woman who played harpsichord with us and whose husband was so helpful and gracious to us even though he was already ill. I strongly suspect that your shadow and even you, Brian are being equally spineless." Shouted John, losing his patience again..

"I heartily agree with John," came the well known rumbling tones from behind the group holding a large envelope." As long as the jury is ordered to disregard any such information, a retrial is not necessary. As for the matter of publicity, must we be fearful and let our actions be governed and contaminated by the gutter press. They could equally crucify us if we abandon the trial."

"I respect your opinion, of course," Sir Ian smarmed, his face twisted by a tight smile. "But I must confess I'm worried about the possible consequences."

"The needs of justice to the accused is paramount. In order to resolve the matter, we need a proper opinion on Barbara's health and state of mind."

A heavy silence fell on the room as tension filled the air from the clash of wills into the middle of which Coope stepped, judging that they would have fought each other into the ground and now was the time to enter the room.

"I can see that you've got the envelope I slid under the door. I didn't want to disturb your discussions."

"Coope, you are a marvel. Find Karen Betts and get her here now. I don't care what it takes, just do it." John pronounced in ringing tones accompanied by Joe's and Monty's nod of approval. Coope shot off and in no time at all made her way to the visitor's gallery.

"Karen, we need your help. Can you find Nikki Wade at short notice and get her to come to the judge's chambers."

Collective instinct left Karen to be free to deal with this one and to not ask questions.

" I can try. I'll phone her on my mobile."

In the most deliberately calm fashion, Karen fished out her mobile from her handbag and pressed the contact number.

"I hope you've got your best suit on, because the judge wants you in chambers, right now."

"What's up, Karen?" Nikki asked. She was right in the middle of working her way through her files and was totally thrown by the sudden message.

"Never you mind. Just get yourself down here as soon as possible. Your presence is vital."

"OK, I'll be right there as soon as I can."

Nikki threw the files back into her in tray. She shrugged her shoulders and blindly accepted her destiny whatever it would be.

It was a novel sensation for Nikki to be led by Coope along the corridors behind the public staging of the theatre that was the Old Bailey. She found the other woman to be relaxing company and discreet and threaded her way to John's chambers. Immediately, she felt that the room was too small for the crowd of people and blinked her eyes.

"Ah, Nikki. It's good of you to come here at short notice. We are at a crossroads in the trial where, without going into any detail for obvious reasons, the possibility has arisen that the trial should be abandoned and reconvened for a later date. That will involve Barbara Mills being held in remand for some months until a fresh trial date can be set and such a trial would be held in a court in a suitable venue well to the north and neither myself, nor Monty my fellow judge or any council now present would be involved. To my mind, the deciding factor is the welfare of the prisoner and I am asking your opinion as to what impact this would have on Barbara."

Nikki took in at a glance to the emphases that John laid on particular words and realized that it had come to this, that she Nikki Wade, one time victim of the system was asked for vital input into the system's deliberations. The irony was not lost on her but she spoke out as boldly to this group of people as to any other.

"It's totally out of the question that Barbara should suffer the stresses of waiting for months on end. I know that she has needed a lot of support to get her to this stage, not only from other prisoners but also from prison officers. Anyone who knows her would say the same. I couldn't guarentee that she would stand up under the pressure. I don't know what's going on but surely where there's a will, there's a way, judge, for the trial to continue."

John smiled broadly and the light in his eye showed how Nikki's simple formulation cut through the fussy verbiage of so many of the others. Monty looked relieved while George and Jo smiled gratefully at her. Sir Ian and Lawrence James scowled darkly at her and Brian Cantwell studied her closely.

"Well said, Nikki. That is my sentiment entirely." Rumbled Jo approvingly, impressed by her spirit and clarity of speech.

"We're going ahead with the trial then. The arguments are irrefutably balanced that way, eh Monty." John pronounced firmly and decisively, looking pointedly at the dissenters while Nikki glanced round and could feel the tensions ripple round the room.

"Monty and I and doubtless others are exceedingly grateful for you coming at such short notice away from your duties. Needless to say, I am asking you to say no more of this matter until the conclusion of the trial except that tomorrow is business as usual. I anticipate that you will be questioned on the matter very soon.

"I'm glad if I've helped out, judge." Nikki answered.

Before she could turn for the door, Brian Cantwell stepped over and said in a nasty turn of phrase:

"Is your 'opinion' just because you just conveniently happen to be a defence witness?"

Without a blink of her eye, Nikki cut him down to size with a boldness that made Joe chuckle and inwardly applaud her.

"No, it's because I'm a friend."

With an elaborate gesture of looking at his watch, John said very casually.

"Don't know about the rest of you but I happen to have a home to go to. See you all in court, bright and early."

Nikki led the way out to pass the word to the others while the rest of the crowd started to shuffle out. It had been a long day.

Part Eighty-Four

When everyone had gone, Jo privately thought that she ought to have taken advantage of the cluster of leaving people in order to leave herself. On her way out with the others, George had briefly touched her shoulder and asked if she was coming. Jo had said that she was staying, but now she wished she hadn't. The only explanation she could give for her rash decision was that she was tired, stressed, and that she simply wanted a hug from her favourite man.

John and Jo sat and looked at each other, Jo experiencing a feeling of shame at what she had done on Monday, and John feeling a distinct sense of guilt that he'd slept with Connie.

"Well, that was a debacle and a half," John said with a sigh of weariness.

"It was certainly unexpected," Jo agreed ruefully. Getting up from behind his desk, John walked over to her, and gently pulled her to her feet. Jo rose only too willingly, needing the warmth and comfort of his embrace as much as she had the scotch the other evening. John held her, feeling her body steadily begin to relax in his grasp. He gently rubbed her shoulders and softly kissed her cheek.

"Are you all right?" He asked into her hair, though knowing she wasn't.

"I am now," She said with her face against his shoulder. Putting her slightly back from him, he scrutinized her face, and saw that there were tears in her eyes.

"It's not all that bad, is it?" He asked, drawing her back against him. His kind words only strove to bring far more tears to the fore, making her shake with the grief that she had tried to suppress since Monday. John let her cry, seeing that this was something she had needed to do for some time now. He murmured fond words of comfort to her, occasionally running his fingers through her hair. Gently encouraging Jo in the direction of the sofa, John forcefully buried the sickening wave of disgust at what he had willingly done on that sofa this time yesterday. Jo was his priority now, not wallowing in self-pity because he'd been well and truly caught with his pants down. They sat where he and Connie had lain, while he tried to soothe away Jo's torment.

When she looked to be beginning to calm down, John tentatively asked,

"Is this about what happened on Monday?" Gazing into his kind, concerned face, Jo saw no criticism, no disapproval at what she had done.

"Did George tell you?" She asked dismally, wishing that George could have kept it to herself.

"You forget that I can always see you from where I sit," He told her, bypassing her actual question. "When I saw you on Tuesday morning, you looked exactly the same as you did after Jason Powell died." John was referring to that other time she had become far too drunk.

"I know it sounds stupid," She said, digging for a tissue in her handbag. "But I really didn't mean to do it. I just kept finding other things to do, probably so that I wouldn't have to think about the case and what was coming the next day."

"When I came to find you on Monday," John said very carefully. "You and George were arguing. What was that all about?"

"When Barbara was first arrested, and after I'd first been to see her, George tentatively tried to warn me about how difficult I would probably find this case to be. That's why she virtually insisted on acting as my junior. She took on the vast majority of the legwork, recruiting witnesses, finding out about any possible bad publicity involving the witnesses, you name it. She knew that I wanted to be able to concentrate on Barbara, so that's what she enabled me to do. I didn't want to need her help, not at first, and when she initially suggested working with me, I wasn't very nice about it. But there's honestly no way I could have put this case together so successfully without her. I never thought I would come to say this about George, but she's managed to build a rapport with some of our witnesses, that I know this time I really couldn't have achieved. Kay, Zubin, Tom, they've all talked to George far more than they ever have to me. She's gained their trust, made them share confidences with her that I don't think I could have extracted so easily. She even managed to persuade Yvonne to track down and warn off, a prostitute whom Zubin used to visit on a regular basis." John grinned.

"Typical," He said ruefully, his comment meant for both George and for Yvonne. "But you really shouldn't be telling me things like that," He added, the trial protocol intruding on his thoughts as usual.

"If you're going to sit there and split hairs, John," Jo said disgustedly. "Then I'll leave now."

"I'd really rather you stayed," John replied quietly, his gaze soft on hers.

Leaning slightly forward, John kissed her, tasting the tea that they'd all been drinking since reconvening in chambers. Jo was soft, gentle, and extremely familiar. What had possessed him, he thought fleetingly, to engage in a sordid, degrading, and entirely unnecessary coupling with Connie Beauchamp? Here he was, cuddling his Jo, his lips tangling deliciously with hers, and with George out there somewhere, loving him just as much as Jo did.

"I love you," He said when they finally came up for air.

"I'm not so sure that you should," Jo replied bleakly.

"I think I've loved you ever since I met you," John told her seriously. "So I'm not about to stop now, just because you got drunk in the middle of a trial. You've done it before, and it's possible that you'll do it again. It doesn't make you a bad person, Jo."

"It frightens me that I did it barely without thinking. It was as though it was a natural impulse to do it."

"What you need to try to do," John told her carefully. "Is to make sure it doesn't become instinctive."

"I know," Jo said quietly. "It was certainly something of a relief that she could take over like that yesterday morning," She added with a slight smile.

"Talking of George's approach to cross-examination," John said with a sudden thought. "Where on earth did she uncover all that evidence about Connie Beauchamp?"

"I've got absolutely no idea," Jo said fondly. "She kept her cards very close to her chest with Connie. She didn't even tell me about most of what she pulled out of the air this morning, and I'm not even convinced that she used all she had on her."

When George descended the stairs after leaving Jo in chambers with John, she saw Karen, Yvonne and Helen waiting for her.

"How did it go?" Helen asked when she reached them.

"Didn't Nikki tell you?" George asked, lifting a hand to cover a yawn.

"Of course she did," Yvonne said with a smile. "But you lot can change your minds at the merest whim." George laughed tiredly.

"We'll continue as before, with the jury being told to disregard Sylvia's last couple of comments."

"God knows what the stupid cow thought she was playing at," Said Yvonne in disgust.

"Do you all fancy a cup of tea that hasn't come out of a machine?" George asked with sudden inspiration. "Court won't reconvene until tomorrow and I for one could do with a sit down."

"You look knackered," Yvonne observed thoughtfully.

"It's probably something to do with our lord and master giving me the run around," She said, moving towards the outside. But as she drove through the late afternoon traffic, she wondered just how long this lack of energy would last before she was forced to acknowledge its existence.

When the four of them reached her house, George wondered what had happened to Cassie and Roisin.

"They had to pick the kids up from school," Yvonne informed her. They moved into the kitchen, still talking about the cock up Sylvia had made of probably her very last court appearance.

"Never mind Sylvia," Helen said without thinking. "What was that all about this morning?" George hurriedly turned her eyes away, and stared fixedly at the kettle she was filling from the tap.

"I was just sharpening a few claws, that's all," She said a little shakily, part of her wanting to share her torment with these three kind hearted women, and the rest of her wanting to hide from their all too penetrating gaze. But she could feel the rising tide of emotion that couldn't be suppressed forever. She tried to blink away the tears, feeling nothing but kindness and empathy coming from these three women, standing in her kitchen as though they really were her friends. Seeing her difficulty, Karen switched off the tap and handed the kettle to Yvonne to put back on its base, and whilst Yvonne opened cupboards in an attempt to locate mugs and teabags, Karen turned George to face her. Neither Karen nor George said a word to each other, their closeness of last year negating the need for actual words. All that concerned Karen at the moment was that for some reason, George was tired, strung out, and very upset. Coming over to where they stood, Helen laid a hand on George's shoulder.

"What's happened?" She asked gently, but George didn't answer, couldn't answer, couldn't put into words how she'd felt on seeing John and Connie together. But Yvonne answered for her.

"She caught the Judge having it away with Connie Beauchamp."

"I did wonder," Karen said quietly, softly kissing George's cheek. "Not even you will sharpen claws like that for just anyone."

"They looked so perfect together," George said through her tears. "I don't think I've ever seen a couple quite so well co-ordinated. In the fairly lengthy time it took her to put her clothes back on, I was given the pleasure of scrutinizing every inch of her, and I couldn't find one, single flaw."

"You're not exactly over the hill, George," Helen assured her kindly.

"I feel it sometimes," George said miserably.

"Don't we all," Yvonne muttered darkly, retrieving some milk from the fridge. Taking their tea into the lounge, George and Karen sat on the sofa, and Yvonne and Helen sat in armchairs.

"So, what're you going to do about John?" Yvonne asked as she lit a cigarette. In hearing Yvonne say his actual name, Karen had to forcefully suppress the thought that Yvonne had in fact slept with him, nearly a year ago now.

"What can I do?" George said despairingly. "I used to think that having both me and Jo at his beck and call was his idea of heaven, but evidently not."

"Have you got any idea why he does it?" Helen asked her, seeing this as a golden opportunity for finding out about John from somebody else's point of view.

"Enormous insecurity complex, coupled with an addiction to sex," George said matter-of-factly. "I've tried my damnedest over the years to curb his leaning towards women who fuck first and think later, but so far, with no success. If I hadn't had the evidence of it thrust in my face, I could have got the anger out of my system and just accepted it, as I have on most of the other occasions over the years. But seeing them together like that, it was just a bit too much. It means that you suddenly discover what they really find attractive, which doesn't appear to be you any more."

"He does love you, you know," Helen said into the resulting, pain-filled silence.

"John would like to believe he still does," George said resignedly. "But I'm not sure that I do."

"What about Jo?" Yvonne asked.

"Jo doesn't know about Connie," George said firmly. "And for the sake of this trial, if nothing else, it absolutely has to stay that way."

"I do admire your idea of plain and simple justice," Karen told her with a smile. "Pushing both John and Connie to the limits of their endurance. It was priceless."

"Once I'd started," George said with a weak smile of her own. "I couldn't stop. Every word she uttered made me angrier and angrier, and when John began defending her honour, I was just about ready to scratch his eyes out with my own hands."

"Yeah, I saw," Yvonne said with a smirk. "Charlie and one of his Rottweilers couldn't have done any better."

When George lifted a hand to cover yet another yawn of mental exhaustion, Karen turned her face towards her, scrutinizing it closely.

"Have you stopped eating again?" She asked, before she could think better of it.

"Not so as you'd notice," George replied, her body stiffening because she didn't particularly want this area of her imperfections to be broadcast to all and sundry.

"I don't believe you," Karen said simply, for the moment forgetting that they had an audience.

"George," Yvonne broke in gently. "Anyone could tell a mile off that you don't eat enough to keep a sparrow alive."

"Really?" George replied a little bitterly. "Because I thought I covered it up quite well."

"Oh, you do," Helen told her thoughtfully. "Almost too well."

"It's nothing serious," George attempted to tell them. "I just find some cases more stressful than others," She added evasively.

"Yeah, especially when you're working for two instead of one," Yvonne replied knowingly.

"Occasionally perhaps," George said whilst trying not to meet Yvonne's eyes.

A good while later when the three of them had left, Karen drove purposefully back to the Old Bailey. Seeing George so vulnerable and feeling so worthless had made Karen extremely angry. John had no right to do this to George, no right whatsoever. Thankfully seeing that Jo's car was no longer in the car park, meaning that she had left for home, Karen parked, and walked back in through the heavy swing doors. All was quiet at this time of day, and she walked up the stairs with her shoes warning any hiding Judge of her forceful approach. Knocking on the door to John's chambers, she realised that this was what George had probably done, before walking in on him and Connie. When he bade her to enter, she swept in with the force of a whirlwind.

"How could you do that to her?" She demanded of him as he rose from behind his desk.

"I see that the grapevine's been doing its stuff," John commented dryly, winding Karen up even more.

"Do you have any idea how hurt she is?" Karen demanded.

"No, but I suspect that you're about to tell me," John replied, still sounding calm and thoroughly self-assured.

"George loves you, John," Karen told him vehemently. "Yet every bloody opportunity you get, you try your damnedest to throw it all away. Was it absolutely necessary to do this to her?"

"Oh, and it was so much better when I slept with you, wasn't it," He threw back at her, unwilling to put up with any more of this after the day he'd had. Karen's face went blank, keeping from him all the hurt and guilt of that night that she still couldn't quite part with.

"No, it wasn't," She said in a tight, quiet voice that touched his heart. "That was ten times worse." Knowing that they'd both said quite enough, they remained quiet until they'd calmed down a fraction.

"Did she ask you to come here?" John eventually asked, now sounding back in control of himself.

"No," Karen admitted with a slight smile. "And she'd have a fit if she knew I had."

"I do feel bad about sleeping with Connie," He told her, and she could see the guilt and worry for George shining out of his eyes.

"Yes, I know you do," Karen replied tiredly. "And George really did a number on the pair of you this morning, didn't she."

"I was almost proud of her," John was forced to admit. "But I doubt that it's got it out of her system, not by a long way."

Part Eighty-Five

Connie Beauchamp brushed aside Will Curtis' insistent questioning with ill concealed irritation as to why she was taking time away from St Mary's Hospital.

"You have always complained that I cramp your style when I'm here. You can enjoy your freedom - just for one day."

"So when can everyone expect you back, Connie?" He enquired in his usual cold, aloof fashion.

She watched him closely scrutinize her to try and figure out the nature of her mysterious errand. Well, Will Curtis, you can guess a million times and you'll be wrong every time, she smiled to herself and deliberately paused for maximum effect before replying.

"You know I had a very interesting conversation with the defence barrister. It taught me such a lot that I needed to know. Bye Will."

Was her parting shot before she floated out the door and Will's feet were too stuck to the floor to move him to pursue her non-answer. He was out of her sight and her mind in moments as met the sharp fresh air. Her smile faded as she reached for her car keys as she suspected that the purpose of her visit was not going to be a laughing matter. The deal she had struck with George could end up seriously derailing her judgment of the situation to her discomfort. For once in her life, she was dressed inconspicuously and she slipped into the end seat on a row of the visitor's gallery entirely on her own, just below two smartly dressed men on the top row.

John stopped short of administering the most emphatic instruction to the jury that his eloquence could summon up as Jo attracted his attention.

"My Lord, there is a point of law I want to raise which is crucial to the evidence my next witness is permitted to raise."

"Clear the court." John immediately ordered. He strongly suspected what was to come and in the time taken for the jury and the visitors to make their exit, started to formulate his own thoughts. By the time Jo was ready to speak, the courtroom looked larger and barer than normal, like an empty theatre on a Saturday matinee performance.

"My Lord, late yesterday, you will recall very prejudicial evidence tendered by the prosecution witness about the defendant's previous stay in Larkhall which you rightly cut short."

"I think that is a somewhat understated description of what happened." John said dryly.

"It goes without saying that the circumstances that gave rise to the defendant being admitted to Larkhall on a previous occasion cannot be mentioned in any shape or form."

"I am about to give a very clear instruction to the jury on that very point."

"What complicates the situation is that I was intending to ask my witness as to the circumstances in which she first met her late husband and came to marry him. This took place when my client was previously an inmate and he was the then prison chaplain. It is material to the background to their relationship and forms a central plank in the case for the defence. I was going to request that my client's previous spell in Larkhall would be admissible but only in the area that I have marked out."

"So Jo, you want to morally have your cake and eat it." Brian Cantwell observed.

"No Brian, you prefer to get your cake by subterfuge. All I am trying to do is extricate the trial from the mess that your last witness landed us in," flashed back Jo.

"Enough." John cut in. "I see the force of the submission but these are complex matters and I wish to confer with my fellow judge and give you our judgment on the matter."

"Well, what do you think, Monty?"

"It's damned difficult. The background to Barbara's marriage to Henry is, of course, important and her marriage cannot be presented as having materialised out of thin air. On the other hand, once we admit the matter of Barbara's time in Larkhall, then there are dangers. The trial is already in danger of becoming a grudge match especially after the events of last night. Once this concession is made, it is all too easy that the boundaries we set might slip. I am conscious that the beady eyes of the Lord Chancellor's Department are fixed on us."

"You get used to that, Monty. The point is do we have any choice on the matter?"

"I have misgivings, John. We stand on a slippery slope but at the end of the day, Jo's submission gives us a tenable basis for proceeding. We must hold our nerve."

"Thanks, Monty." John said quietly but with great feeling

"Are all your cases as difficult as this, John?" Monty said after a pause for reflection. "I've always thought in the past that you've always sought out trouble but now I'm beginning to feel that that it stalks you."

John laughed heartily in appreciation of Monty's succinct and sympathetic summing up. Because he had long inhabited his world of politically and personally contentious cases, he had become hardened to the pressures and took them for granted. He stood up, tapped Monty on his shoulder before returning to the courtroom.

"I confess that I am perhaps remiss in not anticipating the crisis that blew up yesterday. Nevertheless, it has enabled us to deliberate and set firm limits on the case and, after careful thought, we propose to adopt the submission offered by the defence council. I would, however, strongly warn against the slightest suggestion of extending the scope of investigations into the defendant's previous stay in Larkhall beyond the strict limit of her relationship with her late husband. Any transgressions of this ruling will be dealt with exemplary severity. This will be put to the jury and I shall direct the jury to utterly disregard the previous witnesses last remarks as if they had never existed."

If it weren't for what only she knew, George reflected bitterly, she would not have read a deeper meaning into John's modest confession of temporary lack of foresight. How much is he really aware of this wider context, she wondered?

After the jury and the visitors had sat themselves down, John slowly transferred his gaze from Brian Cantwell, to Greg and Amanda and finally looked boldly at Sir Ian and Lawrence James who stared into the general distance. His glance slid rapidly away from Connie who was frozen in space like a statue.

"For the benefit of the jury, a point of law has been raised by council following the disturbance following the last witness' appallingly prejudicial comments which smack of lynch law rather than evidence suitable for a court of law. Our judgment is that you should entirely disregard the content as if it had never been. When you finally come to make your deliberations, you must focus your minds entirely on the charge under which the defendant is being tried. You will hear evidence as the trial proceeds that the defendant was an inmate in Larkhall on a previous occasion but only on restricted terms that council will set out in cross examination. Any slightest reference as to how the defendant came to be there will be punished by us with exemplary severity. If I have anything to do with it, the culprit and will be held on remand for contempt of court and criminal charges to be brought."

Jo rose to her feet with a touch more colour in her cheeks than there had been. The double act that she had performed with George and the reassurance of sorts that John had given her last night had a steadying effect and, this time, George was content to sit this one out. She saw Barbara before her, pale and nervous and she felt beholden to give her strength and support in her questioning before Brian Cantwell took over. She smiled at her, hoping that the meetings with Barbara over these past months would clarify her thoughts.

"Barbara, I have no doubt that you fully understand what the judge has said concerning what you can give evidence on. For the benefit of the court, can you explain how you came to meet your husband?"

"I have been an inmate at Larkhall prison on a previous occasion. I have been a churchgoer all my life and I had secured the duties of organist at the chapel. Henry Mills became the new prison chaplain at Larkhall prison and circumstances drew us together in the natural course of events. We had also both been widowed and lonely and a perfectly natural friendship grew up between us as we both keenly felt the loss of our respective partners. I knew that Henry was a shy, self effacing man and we realized over time and many conversations that we had much in common. Over the passage of time, such close friendship blossomed into love."

"Why and in what circumstances did you come to get married?"

"There were certain difficulties one of which was the initial opposition of the church and another was Henry's family who took an unreasoning prejudice against me. We finally married shortly before I was released."

"I notice that you have not mentioned Henry's attitude to you being an inmate? Was that never a problem and if so, can you explain why?"

"The thought had literally never crossed my mind or Henry's." Barbara replied after a pause, blinking with surprise at such a question. "From the very start, Henry accepted me for the woman that I was. He had no foolish notion of trying to reclaim some fallen woman. It was as if we were made to be together."

"Could you give the court a brief picture of what your life was like together before Henry became ill?"

"It was heaven." Barbara smiled. "Henry secured a vicarage at Chipping Ongar, a delightful village in the country just outside London. The church was idyllic as some of you may recall. The vicarage was charming and the garden was delightful. We settled into a pattern of life where Henry busied himself in. I played the organ for church services and helped Henry out with his sermons. I performed all the wifely duties that a vicar's wife would do to support her husband. I needed nothing else in this world and I know that Henry felt the same. We felt as if our marriage made both of us feel whole."

Jo wiped a slight tear from her eye before she continued. For one second she wished that if only her own life had been less complicated. Brian Cantwell fumed silently at the way Jo Mills had expertly gilded the lily and vowed to exact his revenge.

"What were the types of situations that would have caused you to have cross words with each other?"

"If Henry had a fault, he was too gentle and not assertive with those who put unreasonable demands on him. He regarded all troubled souls as his flock to be encouraged. I can remember one incident when that frightful woman, Sylvia Hollamby conceived what I could only best describe as a schoolgirl crush on him and pushed herself on him. I had to make it clear to her that he was not in the slightest interested in her. I reproved him for not facing up to telling her what had to be said. To make it worse, she was a long serving prison officer at Larkhall Prison."

A pin could have dropped in the court and would have been heard in the intense silence as Barbara spoke with heated animation as if the events happened yesterday. A huge grin split the faces of Gina on one side of her and Dominic on the other and the humour of the situation could be seen on the faces of Yvonne, Crystal and Roisin in the gallery. Behind them, Connie listened with intense concentration and an open mind.

"Excuse me, if I may, I have a couple of questions for the defendant." John jumped in quickly which Jo conceded to with a tolerant sigh, as she knew only too well how insatiable his curiosity was.

"Was Mrs. Hollamby in any way jealous and resentful of you because your husband preferred you over her?"

"Insanely jealous, my lord. We were never on the best of terms to begin with and this made matters ten times worse."

"What was the reason for this ill feeling?"

Barbara paused for a moment and collected her thoughts.

"I confess that I did not like her because her attitude towards prisoners was harsh and Victorian. I think it would be true to say that I ran up against her because she took particular exception to me being an inmate and also well spoken and a Christian. "

"My Lord, the testimony from the defendant is sheer conjecture and hearsay." Brian Cantwell interjected.

"I would allow your point if it weren't for the fact that Mrs. Hollamby had been offered full opportunity to testify on this matter but neglected to do so. Her silence upon the matter is very eloquent. I'm going to dispose of one matter at this convenient point in time and address the jury directly on a point of law. I need no submissions from either counsel. I'm going to direct that when you, the jury make your deliberations that you ignore totally the entire evidence provided by Mrs. Hollamby. It is so tainted, so compromised that it is not worth the air it is breathed upon. It has lost any credibility whatsoever. It is fortunate for the prosecution that it does not interconnect with other witness evidence or else the entire body of the prosecution case would be brought crashing to the ground in total ruination."

"Appreciative as I am for the vividness of your metaphors, I merely wish to ask you which case you want to take over, the defence or prosecution or both?" Brian Cantwell asked in exasperation at John foreseeing the dangers of John carried away in full oratorical flow.

While John laughed heartily, Monty looked studiously at his papers.

"Not this time, Mr. Cantwell. Please continue, Jo."

Behind the collective amusement from the front row of the visitor's gallery, Connie was smiling with appreciation at John's performance. She couldn't say what impressed her more, his sheer theatricality behind which she could feel his very alert mind or the very outrageous way he was willing to push at the boundaries of professional etiquette in every way. She could readily identify with his strong inclination to customize his profession to his own specifications.

"Did you keep in contact with friends that you had made in prison?" Jo continued, smiling broadly.

"Oh yes, within the limits of a busy vicar's wife. It was easy to keep in touch with friends who were released round about the same time as I was. It was harder with friends who remained on the inside but I know now from meeting them again that at least we were in each other's thoughts."

"At any point during your marriage to Henry Mills, did you keep a diary?"

"Oh yes."

"Was this a new pastime, or was it something you had done from before you met Henry?"

"I've always kept a diary throughout my life. It has helped me collect my thoughts, in times of happiness and in times of trouble."

"Did Henry himself ever keep a diary?"

"Yes, he did."

"Did you ever read each other's diaries, just as a matter of interest?"

"We never needed to." Barbara smiled. "We both accepted that each other had private feelings, emotions, to be committed to a diary but we were confident enough in our love that there was no need to be insecure and intrusive."

"How involved were you with Henry's work as a vicar?"

"Heavily involved. His work meant that part of his duties were mine, something which I was glad to shoulder."

"How would you describe your marriage as a whole?"

"Blissfully happy. I thought that it would never end….."

At this point, Barbara's voice, which had remained steady throughout her testimony, trembled as she was brought face to face with the reality, which some portion of her mind still strove to deny. Curiously enough, Jo's gentle voice didn't make it any easier. She dabbed at her eyes with a small white pocket handkerchief. "I miss him so much." She added.

"I think now would be a convenient time to break for lunch." John announced to Jo's relief. It would give Barbara a chance to gather her strength for the more grueling part of her testimony.

While everyone else dispersed, Gina and Dominic escorted Barbara to a small side room. Hardly had they shut the door then they both gave voice, having nobly restrained their intense curiosity.

"Hey, Barbara, you never told us about Sylvia making an idiot of herself."

"Yeah, Babs, Tell us more. I'll fetch you a cup of tea, just the way you like it."

"Some might sell their honour for thirty pieces of silver." Barbara joked, a slight twinkle in her eye and a suspicion of a smile.

"Who's talking about selling anything?" cajoled Gina.

"But I'll tell you for free but mind you that my cup of tea is nice and hot. It all started this way…….." Barbara started. Her mind lightened as she first related how Sylvia had prevailed on Henry's charitable desire to help someone in distress after her Bobby had died and the final absurd scene when the altar in the chapel was disarranged. She smiled to herself as the mild farce unreeled itself in her mind and in Gina's and Dominic's broad grins. It gave her that necessary lift in her spirits.

Jo glanced at Barbara and was pleasantly surprised to see that she was less nervous than when she first took the stand and sensed that Gina and Dominic weren't so much keeping guard on her but standing protectively either side of her.

" I now turn to events which I am sure you will find very painful to relate so please take as much time to reply that you feel comfortable with, Barbara. Can you explain to the court what was your initial reaction when Henry became ill?"

"Henry had been to his GP as he had been continually coughing but when he started complaining about having no energy, I started getting seriously worried. That wasn't like him no matter how tired he got. I still remember that day we saw Mrs. Beauchamp. She was so kind and concerned for us and I could tell that she hated to be brutal about the matter as she might have been…….."

Connie sat motionless as the middle-aged woman with a lifetime's experience described her with so much sympathy and understanding. She hadn't taken her in at the time as she had faded unobtrusively into the background. How could she have possibly have overlooked her, she asked herself with a twinge of guilt?

"………words like 'palliative care and increasing levels of pain relief' floated past me. It took me a long time to realize that she was telling us that Henry was dying."

"What was Henry's reaction to his illness?"

"I think he was shocked as I was but he found it hard to put it into words. I found it hard to take everything in myself. I'm sorry for sounding vague." Barbara answered, stumbling over her words to Connie's intense feelings of sympathy for her plight. She was more and more conscious that she might have made something of a snap judgment.

Jo could see the way that Barbara was struggling and she was perilously aware that her own memories were becoming dangerously entangled. George was casting an anxious sidelong glance from where she was sitting, her blue eyes willing Jo the strength to continue. In that split second, Jo lighted on a mode of dispassionate thinking, which would best help her client and was true compassion.

"If it might help both the witness and the court, I would like to draw your attention to the bundle of evidence being the first extract from Henry Mills' diary. This has been authenticated and has the advantage of being written contemporaneously as the tragic events unfolded…….

"………So God's purpose is not to let me live my threescore years and ten. I had hoped to live out many years with my dear wife. I have given comfort to my late first wife and often to parishioners in their troubles and I ought to know what to say, what to think but I dare not put it into words. I would be foolish to pretend that I won't be frightened as I can feel myself slowly but surely getting weaker. What troubles me most is the effect on my

dear wife, Barbara and that I won't be around to comfort her when she needs me……"

"I can hear Henry speaking those words to me." Barbara answered in a tremulous voice.

"What made you decide to care for Henry at home?" Jo continued in a firmer, more reassuring tone of voice much to George's relief. George had been concerned that both women would last the course from when this session started.

"The choice was presented to us of Henry becoming an in patient or of being looked after at home. I knew how attached Henry was to his home surroundings and I hated to have him removed far away from me. He felt the same."

"Was this a joint decision, and how did Henry feel about it?"

"We discussed it as we discussed everything to do with us. His only worry was if I could cope with looking after him."

"Were there any times, when you doubted your ability to continue caring for him at home?"

"Quite frankly, I did. There were times when I could sense that he would get gradually weaker and his illness difficult to deal with but I just carried on."

"Was this something you ever discussed with him?"

"No, never." Barbara said firmly. "I would not have wanted to let him know of my own fears in case that would burden him with guilt. He knew me well enough not to press me on the matter. It was an understood matter between us, like a lot that went on in our marriage."

"As the day of Henry's death approached, were your stress levels exponentially increased?"

"I seemed to float in a sea of tiredness and just struggling on. I did not despair as I was taught that giving way to despair is not actually a sin as such but letting yourself down and your loved one. I seemed to forget that there was ever another world except in ministering to a dying man and both of us continuing for as long as we could. His pain was mine."

"Did Henry ever suggest to you that he had thoughts of doing what he eventually did?"

"There was never any suggestion of this. Even in my frame of mind, I am pretty sure that I would have known if he had any thought of taking his own life." Barbara's tired but clear response was clearly articulated.

"Again it might help if I read the second extract from Henry Mills' diary in the bundle of evidence."

'……….So all the philosophizing about death has come to this. All I can think is that every breath I take is damned painful and I am utterly helpless. I know that my hour of going cannot be long in coming but every minute is stretched out in eternity. I can sometimes see Barbara's troubled face all around me but a lot of the time the morphine fogs my thinking. Only when that starts to wear off can I think more clearly but then I'm in agony and praying for some kind of deliverance. I feel guilty as it sounds selfish. I must persevere for a little while yet……'

"Precisely what were you doing, immediately prior to discovering that Henry had died?

"I'd gone downstairs to make a cup of tea for the two of us. It was a sort of ritual we'd clung to like a fragment of normality. I felt that he was safe to leave as he was resting, half awake."

"What was your initial reaction, to realising that Henry had killed himself?"

"The memories are patchy. I can clearly remember that he was peacefully sleeping in his bed and I very gently touched him to wake him up but he didn't move. It was only by degrees that I realized that he wasn't breathing. After that, I remember looking at the quilt and I remember thinking that the quilt was disarranged. I was staring at that quilt for ages and something took my attention to the bedside table and I realized that the syringe was missing, the one that I always kept ready and contains the morphine for Henry. It wasn't until I went to the side to straighten the quilt that I saw the syringe sticking out of Henry's leg. It was then that I broke down. I don't know what happened next for a while.……."

Barbara's voice trained off and again, she reached for her handkerchief. It was fortunate for Jo that it happened as she needed as long to collect herself as Barbara did. She knew how Barbara through her nerve endings, not what she saw or heard. She remembered.

"Did you expect Henry to die on the day that he did?" Jo continued in a surprisingly firm tone of voice.

"Definitely not. Neither of us thought in terms of his death, just in him staying alive until his Maker sent for him which was not yet."

"What did you do, when you realised what he had done?"

"I phoned for the ambulance immediately. I know it seems irrational but I wanted someone else to say that he was dead, not me."

" How did you feel, when the police charged you with Henry's murder?"

"Like the bottom had dropped out of my world. It was bad enough that Henry had died so unexpectedly but to be arrested for his murder seemed like a nightmare I wanted to wake up from but couldn't"

Connie was starting to live that nightmare also. George was right. All those firmly held opinions were surely and finally dissolved away this quietly convincing testimony and the shocking contrast in the two diary excerpts. She prayed that her evidence would be finally discounted. She could live with a knock to her professional pride but not if her ability to convince and persuade had disastrous consequences for an innocent woman.

Part Eighty Six

Immediately court had adjourned, and after checking that Barbara was in the safe hands of Gina and Dominic, George took Jo home, seeing that she needed some plain and simple looking after. Jo didn't say a word as they drove to George's house, because she felt as though every shred of energy she'd had at the beginning of the day, had entirely drained away.

"You did well today, darling," George told her as she opened the front door.

"Let's hope it works," Jo said dryly. "Because I don't especially want to go through that again in a hurry."

"Are you kidding?" George asked in surprise. "Brian was practically crying into his papers by the end of it. He might try and score a few points tomorrow, but already we've got him on the hop. So, if he wants to achieve anything at this stage, he'll be forced to jump rather high." Jo smiled, picturing the image of Brian Cantwell attempting to leapfrog over the front bench. "That's better," George told her, putting her arms round Jo and kissing her. "I've wanted to see that smile all day."

"It feels like a very long time since I had you in my arms," Jo said softly into George's hair, also having noticed a slight reticence in her lately. George's body stiffened. "It's not a criticism, just an observation," Jo assured her.

"I'm sorry," George said, feeling a little foolish. "I'm not sure what's wrong with me at the moment." This was a whopper of a lie, but Jo fortunately fell for it.

"I think you've just forgotten how to relax," Jo said matter-of-factly.

"Probably," George admitted tiredly.

"Would you like me to help you relax?" Jo asked, looking deep into George's eyes, her meaning only too clear.

"Oh, and just what would this form of relaxation involve?" George asked, her lips curving up into a smile.

"I don't know," Jo said thoughtfully. "Though a hot bath and a glass of wine might be a good start."

"Sounds wonderful," George groaned theatrically, thinking that some highly charged relaxation wouldn't do her any harm in the slightest.

When they were reclining side by side in the bath, with two glasses of Chablis to hand, Jo also began to let go of some of the stresses and strains that had crept up on her over this week.

"I'm sorry that I've been so unprofessional this week," She said, after taking a sip from her glass.

"What's important, Jo," George tried to reassure her. "Is that neither Barbara nor the court has noticed."

"You've been looking out for me all week," Jo said gratefully. "When I can't help thinking that it's you who needs a bit of looking after."

"Oh, I'm all right," George said, even sounding unconvinced to herself.

"You've been arguing with John, haven't you," Jo said simply.

"What makes you say that?" George asked her warily.

"Oh, come on, George," Jo said disbelievingly. "What was your performance of yesterday morning all about if it wasn't a row you'd had with John. You nearly risked being banged up for contempt, again, and you haven't done that for a very long time."

"It's not something I wish to discuss," George replied curtly, sounding almost formal in her response.

"Which tells me that it's definitely something important," Jo pursued relentlessly.

"Jo, you won't get this out of me for love nor money," George promised her. "So please, don't even try."

"Why?" Jo asked, still sounding completely reasonable.

"Because I said so," George replied firmly. "Subject closed." Knowing an immovable object when she saw one, Jo desisted in her probing.

"And this was supposed to make both of us relax," Jo said ruefully.

"It's all right," George said fondly, gently kissing her, and wanting to banish any hint of argument between them.

"You're so beautiful," Jo said in wonder, as she traced the curve of George's right breast.

"You're looking through rose tinted specs," George told her with a sardonic smile. "But the thought is appreciated." Their kisses were gentle, their hands soft as they moved over each other's skin. Their bodies were becoming so familiar to the other by now, that they each were learning their favoured pleasure points, making their loving almost second nature to them. When two sets of delicate fingers slid tenderly between legs, they both knew that this more than any verbal utterance was the most truthful expression of how they felt about each other. This tantalising of each other's bodies, the pure erotic pleasure they received from touching each other so intimately, was what gave them the private warmth and indulgence that didn't need to always involve John.

A good while later, when they were downstairs preparing a meal of chicken, rice and stir-fry, they heard a key turn in the front door. George had given Kay a spare key to her house so that she could come and go as she pleased while she was there. It was just after six, and when Kay appeared in the kitchen doorway, she looked tired but happy, almost high on pure excitement.

"You look like you had a good day," George observed with a smile.

"Yes, you could say that," Kay agreed, unable to suppress her own smile of pleasure. "How did it go in court?" She asked, realising that Jo's and George's day might have been anything but good.

"Not too bad," Jo informed her. "Barbara did extremely well." After going upstairs to drop off her briefcase and to get changed, Kay rejoined them in the kitchen, sitting down at the scrubbed wood table.

"So, what did you get up to that was quite so enlightening?" George asked, putting a plate of food down in front of her, as Jo refilled their glasses and poured one for Kay.

"Well," Kay said, after taking a mouthful of food. "Tom came down to the morgue late this morning with some relatives, and he asked me whether or not I was busy this afternoon, and as I wasn't particularly, he asked me if I wanted to observe a heart and lung transplant that he would be performing if the organs arrived in time."

"I take it you accepted," Jo said with a smile at Kay's exuberance.

"Like a shot," Kay agreed. "It's far too many years since I was in an operating room, and I couldn't resist. Zubin was also there doing his stuff, as was the cardiothoracic registrar."

"Will Curtis," George filled in for Jo's benefit. "He was the one who gave me so much dirt on Connie Beauchamp."

"He's not the nicest man I've ever met," Kay said with a slight frown. "Insists on proving his own skill whilst refusing to learn from a higher authority. Anyway, when it came to putting in the new heart and lungs, Tom invited me to assist, which didn't please Mr. Curtis one bit. So, there I was, holding the new organs in place while Tom put in the stitches, and it felt incredible. Tom then allowed me to suture the intercostal muscles, saying that he wanted to see what I was made of."

"Typical," George said with a laugh. "And I trust you showed him precisely what you are made of?"

"I think so," Kay said a little abashed. "Then, when he began giving the internal massage to get the new heart beating properly, and to know that I'd been part of that, it gave me the biggest non-sexual high that I think I've ever had. It might have simply been that just for a while, I was allowed to step off my own world, and walk around in someone else's. But whatever it was, I'd do it again any day."

Smiling at her enthusiasm, Jo asked,

"What made you go into forensic pathology in the first place?"

"I wanted to find out everything that a person was able to tell me after death," Kay said simply. "When a person survives either a horrific injury or a debilitating illness, they usually have a voice. The only voice available to the dead is someone who does what I do. I interpret the words of the dead, because they cannot speak for themselves."

"We could use that," George said thoughtfully. "When you're on the stand next week."

"Has anyone else ever placed such a description on your profession?" Jo asked. Crunching on a piece of mange tout, Kay thought about this. Then her brain clicked back into action. It had been after the night that Chandonne had broken into her house, when she'd been staying with Anna. Being a psychiatrist, Anna Zenner had taken her through several afternoons or evenings of questions and answers, trying to provoke Kay into allowing herself to feel, instead of always forcing herself to think.

"A psychiatrist friend of mine once told me, that I am the doctor who hears the dead, the doctor who sits at the bedside of the dead."

"Remember that," George said in awe. "Because the jury will love every word of it."

"Did this psychiatrist friend of yours have any other pearls we might use?" Jo asked, wishing that they could have had the services of this woman for Barbara.

"We once talked about how I restrict the level of imagination I put into my work, because if I didn't, it would be far too easy for me to know what they felt at the point of death. Anna said that if I could possibly allow that imagination to take hold in front of a jury, to enable me to conjure up for them what a person may have thought and felt before their death, it would win the case for me every time." Taking a sip of her wine, Jo regarded Kay thoughtfully.

"Do you think you could do that with this jury? Make them feel the agonising desperation that Henry Mills must have felt, in order to take his own life?"

"I guess I could try," Kay said quietly. "Though it won't be very easy for your client to listen to."

Part Eighty-Seven

Brian Cantwell had mixed feelings when it came to cross-examining Barbara Mills as he could not but remember the modest unassuming way that she and her husband contributed to the success of "the Creation." He wouldn't deny that he had thoroughly enjoyed the event. However, that was his hobby and he lived off his profession. As such, he saw himself as a 'hired gun' sometimes taking cases from the CPS or otherwise, if wealthy clients waved large enough cheques in his face even if they were coloured. He had no strong convictions except in furthering his career and did not get emotional about cases like Jo Mills did. Nevertheless, he had crossed swords with her in the past and knew that she needed watching. True, he could simulate outrage, moral or otherwise when it came to it, but this was just one of the tricks of the trade which were very lucrative and not to be sneezed at. He curses his fate that he had ever placed faith in Mrs. Hollamby who had been so categorical in her opinion of the defendant that he had let himself be swayed by her. He would not make that mistake again. He had lost ground badly after that fiasco and resolved to make up lost ground one way or another. He could not afford any sentimental considerations.

"I seem to be placed in a quandary in addressing the defendant as 'Mrs. Mills' when she has a namesake in court who is the opposing council."

"The thought occurred to me, Mr.Cantwell. The simple answer is to address the defendant as Mrs. Mills and your opposing counsel as Jo." John jovially advised, pleased to see a bit of pleasant banter in the courtroom.

"I thank you, my lord." He smiled but George was sharp enough to spot the fact that while his lips were smiling, his eyes weren't.

"My first question is quite simple." He started in easy languid tones. "Why should the court, believe you to be not guilty of the crime you are accused of?"

The question was a severe jolt to Barbara, which turned out to be fortunate as George leapt to her feet and spoke just before Jo could get in the act.

"Objection, my Lord. Would I be right to say that the onus is on the prosecution to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the offence which she is charged with or has the entire contents of criminal law been turned upside down while my back has been turned?"

"You are, of course right, Ms. Channing but this is only one question in the trial and does not govern the trial itself. I for one would be interested to hear her answer."

"But this is a scandalous…" Jo started to say.

"This is my decision. I have ruled."

"You contrary infuriating man." George muttered under her breath.

Barbara's shock turned into controlled anger at the sheer cheek of the question and she took fire.

"You ask me why the court should think I am innocent. Well, the answer's obvious. I'm innocent. I have no earthly motive for taking my poor Henry's life and every reason to preserve it as long as was possible. I thought I'd made it quite clear that I had hated and feared the prospect of losing him while he was dying more than anything else."

"You tell them, Babs." Yvonne yelled in her carrying voice, her gaze glaring full into John's sight and daring him to reprove her.

"Will that satisfy you, Mr. Cantwell?" drawled George. Ah well, she thought, two wrongs aren't so bad in relation to one if yours cancels out your opponent's unfair advantage.

"Can we have some order please and let Mr. Cantwell continue?"

"I thank you for your intervention. Can you explain for the benefit of the court what were Henry's views on the issue of suicide?"

"Henry considered that a suicide was deserving of pity, not blame, in terms of the desperation into which the poor creature had sunk. However, I sense that what you are really asking is how he would have reacted in terms of his own terminal illness."

"Go on, Mrs. Mills." Brian Cantwell was forced to reply while Jo and George looked in admiration at the Barbara's spirited response.

"Henry was a wise man but very self effacing. Part of the reason is that he was aware of how much he did not know. For instance, he believed that he should endure what burdens God laid upon him, no matter how extreme they became. For all that he knew that there were situations, which he could not foresee how he might react. He trusted that God would show him the right course but that was his faith, not his knowledge."

"So that the long and the short of it, Mrs. Mills is that you do not know if he would have taken his own life." Brian Cantwell pursued with a touch of irritation.

"Yes. But I have faith that Henry would have done what was right." Barbara smiled, her eyes focused up into the court ceiling. It was as if she could see and hear him.

"Did it never occur to you, to help Henry out of his pain, even when it became as extreme as it no doubt did become?"

"No, Mr. Cantwell.Quite apart from the reasons I have given you, I had been in prison before as has been mentioned and nothing on earth would have made me risk returning to prison."

"What would you have done had you thought that Henry might commit suicide?"

"That never crossed my mind so the question didn't arise. Mind you, I was getting gradually worn down as his illness progressed

"During the time you were married to Henry, did you find him to be a mentally strong, or a mentally weak man?"

"Does the fact that someone may have committed suicide, mean that they are necessarily a mentally weak person?" Barbara retorted sharply.

"I am asking the questions, not you, Mrs. Mills. I repeat my question, during the time you were married to Henry, did you find him to be a mentally strong, or a mentally weak man?"

"A very strong man."

Barbara's determined voice cut through the court and made Brian Cantwell hesitate. He had pressed her hard yet she had resisted with a steely determination that he had not expected. Jo and George watched with glee as they had been opposing counsels a number of years back and were fully aware what Barbara could do when roused and Brian Cantwell had done just that with his very first question. He pretended to look at his papers and asked his next question slowly and deliberately.

"When you discovered that Henry was dead, why didn't you call the police?"

"What I did do was to phone 999 as far as I can remember. I asked for the ambulance as I needed someone medical to be around just in case there was the faint hope that I was wrong and Henry could be saved. It sounds ludicrous but that was all I thought of at the time. It never entered my head to call the police. You don't in a situation when you've just lost your loved one like that."

"I see." Brian Cantwell said reflectively, not being able to think of an answer to that one." Let me ask you another question. Why did you leave, a refilled syringe on the bedside table, well within reach of your husband's hand?"

"I was up and down stairs all the time and waking up in the night more and more as I lay beside him as he needed morphine to get him through the night. I got into a routine in preparing the next morphine syringe to replace the one I had used as some sort of routine to keep me functioning and also to be ready for Henry. It was the easiest place to leave it. I never expected him to use it on himself."

"Have you ever considered since his death, that your leaving that syringe well within Henry's reach, directly led to his death?"

Barbara hesitated for the first time she took the stand to fully consider the matter. Then she spoke in slow deliberate tones that became more tremulous as she went on.

"I accept that I had never foreseen that Henry could or would use the syringe and that where I placed the syringe enabled him to take his own life. That thought has haunted me every day since then. I can only think that some sudden impulse made him act that way but I can only grieve for him.He knows wherever he is that forgiveness isn't the right word as there is nothing that Henry had ever done that I have had to forgive him for."

Brian Cantwell was silent. He had thrown his last shot from his locker and, besides, he had no heart to pursue the matter further. Indeed, what could he say?"

"I have no more questions, my lord." He concluded in a subdued tone.

"My next witness is not available." Jo added.

"In this case, I find that this is a convenient place to adjourn the hearing till Monday morning." John added.

Gina and Dominic held fairly firmly onto Barbara as they sensed that her legs were made of rubber and escorted her out of the court while Jo and George breathed huge sighs of relief and could relax as the weekend was here.

Part Eighty Eight

The middle aged woman dressed in her smartest clothes was flanked by the two figures who were clearly dressed in the uniform of the prison service but, in reality, Barbara was glad for the two of them to show her the way to go home, or what passed for home. The run up to her trial as well as two grueling days on the stand had drained her. She had said her piece and now she felt tired and utterly drained and just wanted to get away from here. Gina and Dominic respected her silence and courteously made way for her to get in the back seat of the car. The winter sky was dull and overcast to match her mood

"I could do with a nice cup of tea." Barbara said at length as the scenery of inner city London whizzed past outside their windows

"The Julies will get one special for you when we get back."

Barbara made no reply to Dominic but settled down into her seat and waited to be taken back. Gina and Dominic maintained a silence that they hoped would be companionable and escorted her back onto the wing.

"You want your usual cup of tea, Barbara?"

Nikki took one look at her and was relieved to see that Barbara had clearly not been taken to pieces by the opposing barrister. She just looked very tired and weary and smiled politely at the greeting.

"Yes please and, if you don't mind, I would prefer to go to my cell and have a lie down."

The Julies caught Nikki's eye and mouthed back their answer.

"I'll see you later sometime."

While Denny bustled up to sit with her in the canteen, Nikki moved towards the PO's room after Gina and Dominic. Fortunately, the room was empty.

"How did Barbara get on?"

"Their barrister tried to get smart with her and got her back up. She made a right clown out of him but……." Dominic volunteered, his grin fading as he realized that the fierce interrogation had forced her to face very painful memories.

"….that doesn't mean that that wanker didn't get to her. She's been dead quiet on the way back."

"More so than on the way there, Gina?"

"I'd say, yeah, even with worrying at what that bastard would throw at her."

"Just to be on the safe side, we'd better put Barbara on fifteen minutes suicide watch." Nikki pronounced the thought for all of them and they nodded in agreement.

"Tell you what, give me half an hour so I can clear some work out of the way and I'll pop in and sit in with Barbara for a bit. It'll give some of you will get a bit of a break tonight."

"Thanks, Nikki."

They appreciated Nikki's little gestures of good will and that, like Karen before her, she wasn't afraid to muck in whenever it seemed right.

"Do you reckon we should pop in on Babs. She needs her friends around her."

"She may just want some shuteye. Let's face it, Ju, she ain't going to have a decent night's sleep last night, now would she, Ju."

"Reckon you're right, Ju. So what do we do?"

"I ain't reckoned that far yet. We ought to see her." Julie Saunders concluded not very convincingly.

At this point Nikki was on her rounds and caught half an ear to the conversation.

"Julies. Want to help me out?"

"If it's cleaning up the landings, they've been done over the other day." Julie Saunders

jumped in hastily.

"Nothing like that, Julie. I mean Barbara. I'm going in to see her right now and it might be a good idea for you to come along a bit later on and help me out. The prison officers know about it."

"Oh well then. Count us in." Julie Saunders answered, a growing smile on her lips. It was great that someone like Nikki was around to take over and come up with the good ideas, she thought." Half an hour, like."

"Sounds fine to me, Julie. Barbara might be in a real 'no talking' mood. If she is, I'll catch up with you before you go in."

"That's brilliant, Nikki." Julie Saunders told Nikki with enthusiasm. "Now why didn't we think of something like that." She added to Julie Johnson after Nikki had moved off in a purposeful manner.

"Mind if I come in, Barbara. " Nikki asked kindly as Barbara lay on her bunk bed, facing away from her to the wall. There was a long pause before Barbara replied.

"So long as I'm not taking you away from your work, Nikki. I know how busy you are."

The remark was kindly meant but it reminded Nikki that, while she was rushed off her feet, part of the daily reality for prisoners is, even with the education programmes she had started up, was terminal boredom and depression.

"You are my work, Barbara. I'd like to think you're my friend as well. If you want to talk, Barbara, I'm here whenever you're ready."

Barbara half turned to lie on her back and mulled matters over. As she stared at the light in the ceiling, something stirred the very distant memory of when Nikki was lying in her bunk after she had supposed that Helen had abandoned her while Barbara stuck up for her and urged her to be positive.

"I suppose I'll have to talk to you sooner or later." Barbara said begrudgingly.

"I'm only saying because it might help. There comes the time when everyone needs to talk even if they don't want to." Nikki's very soft voice reasoned very gently.

There was another long pause until, eventually, Barbara's head turned in Nikki's direction. Her face was infinitely kind and patient as she had always been, as she had gently persuaded her that she had to take up arms against Shell Dockley. She lay there without saying anything and Nikki waited patiently without pressurizing her.

"It's all because that damned barrister kept on at me about when Henry was dying it brought back far too many memories I have been trying to forget." Barbara suddenly replied, her emotions choking her up inside.

"Even the good times as well, Barbara?" Nikki reasoned

"Not exactly."

The stillness of the cell gave the impression to Nikki not of peace and quiet but of detachment from life itself. She remembered that instinct just to bury yourself away from your problems. Harrassed and overworked though Nikki was at times, she was almost grateful to be kept busy. Right now, Nikki knew not to rush matters and was content to content to wait while Barbara was deep in her own thoughts. She sensed that it was so hard of Barbara to come out of herself as she was sunk so deep in the past. Something in her would not let go, to let go of Henry, or so it seemed.

"You know, Barbara, what I remember clearly of that performance at your church hall was Henry's speech. He was gracious to us all and spoke kindly. It's a pity I never knew that he really wasn't well."

"There's nothing you could have done about. There's nothing anyone could have done about it." Barbara said reassuringly though why on earth she chose to reassure anyone at that moment escaped her thoughts. She knew how wide spreading Nikki's range of sympathies were to anyone who needed her help. Moments passed

"You saw how Sylvia made a total idiot of herself in court." Nikki said in deliberately understated fashion.

"Does it make a difference?"

"It gave everyone a laugh." Nikki said in her inimitable fashion. "It won't bring Henry back but it will give you a chance of getting out of here."

"I don't know what there is on the outside anymore and if it's really worth it all."

Nikki let that remark hang on the air. Barbara was still not looking directly at her. The next words had to be said.

"I did." Nikki said firmly." I was stuck in here for life, the wrong side of the wire. Sure I was lucky when Helen came into my life but she had to move mountains to get my case at the least up for appeal. I'd been on trial up against a hanging judge and only half the story was told and I got sent down for life. The trial is going well from all accounts and you've got George and Jo and a really decent man as a judge. Believe me, they don't make men better than him. I simply cannot allow you to give up like this."

"Are you speaking as wing governor or as Nikki Wade?" Barbara retorted a little frostily.

"Both. There's never been a difference, never will be. You've got to try, not for me but for you."

Nikki's insistent tones finally got through to Barbara and she started to become aware of the trough of depression into which she had sunk. She coloured slightly at the was she had been so unresponsive but she was saved by the slight knock at the door after which, a fragment of Julie Saunders head peeped round the door.

"We was passing by and thought we ought to look in on you, Babs. Hey, fancy seeing you Nikki." She greeted them all, her surprise at Nikki's presence being somewhat overdone.

"You feeling all right, Babs." Julie Johnson asked anxiously, stealing glances between her and Nikki.

"Thanks to Nikki, I am. She talked some sense into me." Came the answer in much more of a positive tone than she had spoken for a long time, or it seemed that way.

They lapsed into companionable silences as the afternoon wore on and spoke about nothing in particular. Time seemed to drift away. This was a novel experience for Nikki and the feeling seemed to draw Nikki back into the past for awhile until there came an official knock on the door. This was surely that of a screw come to interrupt proceedings.

"Excuse me, Nikki," came Dominic's apologetic voice." The works department want you on the phone about the bad leak on the 3s. They wanted to say that the paperwork for the job hadn't been filled in right."

"And this time of the year when it throws it down with rain." Muttered Nikki, angry. She had had several sparring matches with the petty jobsworth at the other end of the phone. It seemed to her that he saw his purpose, not to help her get to what was needed as soon as possible but in protecting his petty empire and asserting his feeble power." It's February, the worst time of the year. All right, Dominic, I'm coming."

"We'll look after Babs till lockup time," Julie Johnson volunteered. She could see that Nikki was needed elsewhere. Nikki looked at the Julies gratefully and at Dominic who depended on her special brand of toughness in dealing with the situation. She was back in the present and, hopefully, the weekend would see Barbara regroup herself for the next stage of the battle.

Part Eighty-Nine

On the Friday evening, George knew that the time had come for her to talk to John about Connie. As she lay in the bath around seven, she tried to plan what she would say to him. She certainly wanted to know why he'd slept with Connie, above and beyond the obvious, and she definitely wanted to know how it had made him feel. George was all too aware that she hadn't slept with John very much lately, and she couldn't help but wonder if his sleeping with Connie was somehow her fault. If she had been able to keep her lack of enjoyment from John, she would probably have slept with him more often just to make sure that a fiasco like Connie didn't happen. But George also knew this to be a fruitless wish, because John always managed to see through her act if she attempted to fake it with him.

When she went downstairs, Kay was sitting in the lounge reading the paper.

"I'm going out," She said as she stood in the lounge doorway.

"Anywhere nice?" Kay asked, looking up from The Guardian.

"I'm going to see John, to try and sort some of this mess out. I might not be back until tomorrow morning. Can you entertain yourself for this evening?"

"Of course," Kay replied with a smile. "Can I borrow your computer? I need to check up on a week's worth of e-mails."

"Yes, help yourself," George told her.

"I would say have a nice time," Kay said kindly. "But I think that good luck might be more appropriate."

"As long as I can keep my temper in check, things should remain at least vaguely civil," George responded ruefully. "However, I do reserve the right to remain at least slightly angry."

As she drove over to John's flat, George hoped that he would be in and that he did still want to see her. She couldn't blame him if he did everything possible to avoid another confrontation with her, because she herself probably would if she was in his position. But George wasn't looking for a confrontation, not tonight, because she simply didn't have the energy for it. She wanted explanations, and she wanted some answers, but as to what might happen afterwards, she didn't know. If she was honest with herself, she knew that what she really wanted was some comfort. Not necessarily sex, but a pair of strong, male arms, and the type of sheltering embrace that only John could give her. Being with Jo was somehow different, because George even now usually felt that she needed to be the one in control, if such a phrase was appropriate. She didn't know why she always felt like this with Jo, it was just something she had noticed over the last few months.

John was surprised to see George at his door, especially after the argument they'd had on Tuesday. She looked tired, on edge, and in need of a strong, warm hug.

"This is a surprise," John said guardedly as he opened his front door to her, noticeably not acknowledging whether it was nice or not.

"I thought it was about time that we talked," George said, just as guardedly. "Don't you?"

"That depends on whether or not you still want to shout at me," John replied half affectionately.

"No, I don't," George told him, her voice slightly constricted with all the feelings she was vehemently trying to suppress.

"Would you like a glass of wine?" John asked her, seeing the severe reining in of all her emotions, and wanting nothing more than to soothe all the pain away, pain that he had undoubtedly caused. Agreeing to this time buying prop, George sat down at one end of the sofa, and when Mimi jumped up beside her, George began running her fingers through the dog's silky black fur. When John returned and handed her the glass of red wine, he smiled down at Mimi, sprawled on her back with her legs in the air and her head against George's thigh.

"She'll go to sleep like that if you keep on doing that to her."

"I used to do this to whichever dog Daddy had when I was a child," George told him with a smile of remembrance. "I always found it very therapeutic." After taking a sip of her wine and putting the glass down on the coffee table, George approached the forbidden subject. "John, I need to know why you slept with Connie." John was sitting in an armchair off to the side, gazing up at the ceiling so that he didn't have to look directly into George's saddened eyes.

"Would it help if I said that I'm not entirely sure why?" He asked, unable to immediately put everything into words.

"No, it wouldn't," George told him firmly. "I need to make some sense of all this, so that I might just find a way of preventing it from happening again."

"George, you don't seriously think this is your fault?" John asked in total amazement.

"You can't blame me for wondering," George replied disgustedly. "And if it is, you'll appreciate that I'd like to know."

"What makes you think this is your fault?" He asked her, immediately turning the conversation onto her rather than him, a situation he definitely preferred.

"Well, it's not as though I've been very forthcoming in that respect recently, now is it." John stared at her, a maelstrom of feelings buzzing around his brain. He was angry, because never would he be critical of a woman who went off sex once in a while. He was saddened, to think that George could have blamed herself for something he'd done. He was also slightly insulted, that she thought he would be quite so crass and unkind. "Are you going to deny it?" She taunted him, perhaps trying to goad him into that fight she had been hell bent on avoiding.

"Of course I deny it," He replied hotly. "Yes, I had noticed that making love didn't appear to be on your agenda at the moment, and I really couldn't say why. But that has absolutely nothing to do with why I slept with Connie Beauchamp."

"Well, forgive me if I don't believe you," George said a little scathingly. "Tell me, if I had been giving you your usual quota, would you still have had sex with her?"

"I don't know," He insisted vehemently, cursing the day she'd become any type of advocate. "Yes, I might have done."

"But why?" She asked again. "Why, if you're still happy with me and Jo, would you jeopardise it so fecklessly?"

"There was nothing feckless about it," He threw back at her, now almost content to give her the fight that part of her was looking for.

"Well, that's a matter of opinion," She replied scornfully, trying to suppress the rising tide of tears that were threatening to drown her in their intensity.

"Fine," John said as he got to his feet. "If you really want to know what went through my head, I'll tell you, but you won't like it." He began pacing from one end of the room to another, thoughtfully taking the occasional sip from his glass. George just sat and watched him, knowing that she was about to get far more than she'd bargained for.

"All afternoon as I watched Connie on the stand, I wanted her. There was a power coming off her, something infinitely desirable that I wanted then and there. Every word she uttered made me want her all the more. Everything about that voice seemed perfect to me, that essence of culture combined with a purely erotic huskiness that one couldn't fail to be aroused by. You saw her, so you know just how enchanting she looked. You've got no idea just how much I wanted to tangle with that sharp, forceful, fiery personality. So, after court, I asked Coope to summon Connie to see me. Coope's not stupid, she knew that I was about to break every rule in the book, and she warned me off doing it."

"I must remember to thank her the next time I see her," George put in dryly.

"When Connie appeared, she looked a million dollars, even after an afternoon on the stand. She positively exuded sexual tension from every pore." John knew that he was being pretty brutal, but George had wanted to know, so he was telling her. "She knew why I had summoned her, and she certainly wasn't backward in coming forward. The way she said My Lord, it made me feel invincible, as though the entire world was mine to conquer. She challenged me, suggesting that I might not be up to meeting her very exacting standards, and you know what I'm like when someone gives me a challenge. When I kissed her, it was like putting a spark to petrol. She was as eager as I was for what came next, if not more so. Her skin was rich and warm, holding the sort of glow yours usually does when you're happy and healthy. I don't think I've ever slept with a woman quite so adept at getting what she wanted. Every movement had a purpose behind it, and every expression of pleasure was calculated to make me finally lose control. If I'm honest, I think that's why she agreed to it so easily, because the thought of having power over a high court judge was as potent as an aphrodisiac to her. For a random liaison after a long day in court, she was red hot, and writhed under me like a bucking bronco."

"Stop it," George told him bitterly, his words slicing through her like so many well-trained knives.

"What's the matter, George?" He taunted her cruelly. "I thought you wanted to know why I slept with her, or are the details just a little too enlightening for you." She had bitter tears running down her face by this time, and he knew that he'd definitely gone way too far.

Sensing George's distress, Mimi stood up on the sofa, staring at John, and growling as he moved towards them. John stared at her, Mimi never having growled at him before, never having showed any sign of aggression since he'd had her.

"Shh, sweetheart, it's all right," George said, scratching the dog's head and trying to calm her down. "Just tell me one thing," She said to John, still stroking Mimi's head. "Precisely why do you still love me? And don't tell me it's because of Charlie."

Sitting down at the other end of the sofa, John ran his fingers through Mimi's fur, using the action to give him some much needed thinking time. He knew he loved George, but he didn't entirely know why, and he certainly couldn't explain it.

"Is it really so difficult to put into words?" George asked, his inability to do so clearly hurting her.

"George, I love you purely and simply because you're you. Isn't that enough?" John told her, suddenly sounding defeated.

"No, it's not enough," George said, hating herself for crying because it revealed her vulnerability all too clearly for him. "John, I don't know what it is you want from me any more. I can't seem to keep you happy in bed any more, and no, that isn't your fault, it's mine."

"Bed isn't just why I love you," John told her earnestly.

"But it has got a great deal to do with why you love anyone. I'm sorry that I haven't been up to much lately, and I know that if I was better at faking it, it wouldn't need to be a problem."

"George," John said vehemently, taking her hands in his. "I don't ever want you to do that again, not ever, because I really don't deserve it. If for some reason you don't enjoy what I might do for you, then I want to know about it, not be made to feel that it's still as good as it used to be. You are worth far more than that to me, George, far, far more."

"How am I supposed to believe you, if you keep on sleeping with people like Connie?"

"Do you know how I felt when you walked in on us?" He asked her, bypassing her original question because he didn't know how to answer it. "When I saw the look on your face, I wanted to cut out the last hour of my life, so that I could approach the thought of Connie with a different frame of mind altogether. I could see just how much I'd hurt you, and it's been haunting me ever since. All you could talk about was either my career or Jo, not once mentioning a word of how you felt about it. That's how I knew how much I'd hurt you, because you couldn't bring yourself to say it, for fear of losing the iron grip on your feelings that you think you have tonight. I'll tell you what makes me love you, the way you've looked after Jo this week, taking over her role whenever necessary, so that no undue attention is drawn to how difficult she has been finding everything. I love you because when you set your mind on winning a case, or an argument for that matter, you give it everything you've got, leaving absolutely nothing in reserve. You take the kind of risks in court that I often do, and you don't allow any opponent to pull you down. You make me incredibly proud of you virtually every time I see you in court. That doesn't mean that you don't regularly wind me up, because you know that you do, but in doing that, you're showing me just how much spirit is hiding away inside you, ready to come out and fight with me or anyone else to the death."

George was incredibly confused. She was supposed to be angry with him, furious to the point of internal combustion, and yet she knew that he meant every single word he'd just said to her. Mimi chose this moment to wriggle out from between them, and stand whining by the front door. Seeing that George needed a little while to regroup, John got up and attached Mimi's lead to her collar.

"I'll just take her out," He said to George, handing her the handkerchief from his trouser pocket. "Are you staying?"

"Yes, if that's all right," George replied a little shakily.

"I'd like you to stay," He assured her gently, briefly resting a hand on her bony shoulder, and thinking that he had a lifetime's worth of hurt to make up for when he returned.

As George took a quick shower and cleaned her teeth, she wondered if she was doing the right thing in staying. After what John had said to her, George wasn't certain that she would be able to make love to him, if that was what he wanted. She didn't seem able to relax with him at the moment, and she knew this was because she was terrified of him coming across her lump, which would only lead to his demanding explanations that she wasn't yet equipped to provide. She felt exhausted as she finally slid under John's duvet, both physically and emotionally. Hardly surprising, she mused to herself, as she hadn't got around to eating any time today. Still, what was new?

As John walked around the block with Mimi, the street lamps making the frosted grass on the verges glisten in their shafts of light, he knew that he shouldn't have said half of what he had to George. He knew she'd wanted to know why he'd slept with Connie, but did he really have to give her chapter and verse on the subject? He also knew that most of George's disgust at what he said, would probably be turned inwards, to focus on herself for as she'd put it, "Not being especially forthcoming recently." John didn't know the reason behind George's lack of sexual interest, though he suspected that it might have something to do with whatever it was she wasn't telling him. He could usually read George like a book, and this time was no different. Something, of whose origin he couldn't begin to guess, was worrying her to the point of ensuring her a lack of sleep and a lack of interest in either sex or food. He wished she would talk to him, tell him about the inward terror that was haunting her every waking moment. But then what did he expect, if he kept on doing the kind of thing he'd done on Tuesday. Perhaps it was now up to him to put that wrong right, and to get back the George he knew and loved.

George lay and listened as he returned to the flat, and as he moved about preparing for bed. She didn't want to lose all these familiar things, she realised, which made doing something about her lump all the more urgent. She lay and watched as Mimi padded softly to her basket under the window, and curled up contentedly in its depths. But when she felt John's weight on the other side of the bed, she still lay turned away from him. John cuddled himself up behind her, laying an arm over her waist, gently entangling his fingers with hers.

"I'm sorry," He said, dropping a light kiss on her shoulder.

"What for?" George asked him quietly, needing to hear the thoughts behind his apology.

"For hurting you," He told her simply. "I shouldn't have slept with Connie, and I'm sorry that you saw us together."

"Are you telling me what you actually feel," George asked him knowingly. "Or are you telling me what you think I want to hear?"

"Every time I look at that sofa," John told her regretfully. "I feel..." He stopped, not entirely sure how to phrase his level of disgust.

"...Cheap?" George supplied for him.

"Yes, I suppose so," He agreed tentatively.

"You remember that time we ended up screwing behind a hawthorn hedge, during a rehearsal for 'The Creation'?"

"As if I'll ever forget it," John answered dryly.

"Well, that's exactly how I felt after doing that. So, if you feel even slightly cheap about sleeping with Connie, it's been a very long time in coming."

"George, I don't know how to put this right," John said sombrely.

"And I'm not entirely sure that you can," George replied with just as much pain behind her tone. "If I hadn't seen you together but had still found out about it, I could be angry, hurt, and resigned as usual when you do this. But seeing you, lying there with her, you both looked incredible." These last few words were said with that rising tightness in the throat that always heralded tears. "Not even you and Jo have ever looked quite so beautiful," She went onto tell him. "And I was so envious of both of you. I used to look like that very occasionally, but not any more. Connie is ten years younger than me, and with more poise and self-assuredness than I am ever likely to have again."

"George," He said in distress, hating it when she belittled what she must mean to him. "To me, you are as beautiful as on the day I met you. I intimately know every inch of your beautiful body, and I wouldn't ever want it any other way. George, you gave me the most precious thing in my life," He said, running his hand over the flat plains of her belly, where once Charlie had rested before she was born. "Something for which I can't ever love you enough. I wish with all my heart that I hadn't slept with Connie, because it appears to have hurt you immeasurably." This was too much for George, because she really couldn't maintain even this distance from him any longer. Turning over within his embrace, she clung to him, this rock of hers whom she knew she couldn't do without, entwining her legs with his and kissing him with all the fervour she could muster.

He was momentarily surprised, because he certainly hadn't expected her to want this type of closeness from him. But he kissed her back, pouring into it all the love and apology that he felt.

"I'm sorry," George said between kisses. "I'm sorry that I haven't been what you might call available in the last few weeks."

"Shh," John told her gently. "That doesn't matter, really it doesn't. I'm just worried about you, that's all. I just wish you'd talk to me."

"I can't," She said despairingly. "Not yet, anyway."

"Are you pregnant?" He asked her, his hand trailing over her hip to lie once again on her lower abdomen.

"No," She said, taking his hand in hers.

"Would you tell me even if you were?" John couldn't help asking.

"No, probably not," She was forced to admit. "But I'm not, I promise." In order to distract him from trying to guess any further about what she wasn't telling him, George led his hand familiarly to her right breast, encouraging him to fondle her as he had done so many times before. John capitulated to her undeniable request, because he wanted to love her, to take some of her hurt away, to try and rebuild what ought to be between them.

"Are you sure this is what you want?" John asked her, taking her recent lack of interest into account.

"I need it," She said almost desperately. "I need you." This was true, she realised, because with everything that may or may not happen once she brought the existence of her lump out into the open, this might well be the very last time she slept with John. As his hands moved over her body in that old, familiar pattern, she strove to make it as good for him as he was for her. But when he eventually began moving inside her, she clung to him, not ever wanting this to end. Why couldn't time be stopped, she thought fleetingly, so that she wouldn't ever have to detach herself from him, and leave his bed, as she knew she would have to tomorrow morning.

Part Ninety

When George awoke very early on the Saturday morning, she knew that sleep would now be very allusive for her. She had been haunted by broken dreams all night, and now that she was finally awake, rest would be a thing of the past. John was still sound asleep, taking comfort in the fact that she was supposedly sleeping beside him. George hated having to leave him, but she knew that it had to be done, and while he wasn't about to stop her. Slipping silently out of bed, she put on her clothes, and walked into the lounge to find something to write on. Seeing that his computer was resting in stand by, she moved over to it and clicked away the screen saver.

"John," She wrote on the keyboard. "I needed last night more than you will ever know, both the hearing of your reasons for sleeping with Connie, as well as what came after. But now I need some time, time to sort myself out, and to deal with that thing I can't discuss with you, which I promise you isn't a pregnancy. I need you to allow me this time apart from you, because having your reaction to cope with as well as my own would be far too difficult. Jo will never find out from me about Connie, because that would only cause problems that neither of us need. I have always tried to forgive and forget your series of female transgressions, because I know that to beg you not to do something again, is the quickest way to persuade you to go against my wishes. But this time is different. I am finding it hard to forgive, and even harder to forget seeing you looking quite so good with Connie. You've got no idea just how beautiful the two of you were, and that reminded me with all the finesse of a punch to the jaw, that I am ten years older than her, and not nearly so attractive.

I'm only going to ask one thing of you, something I expect you to fulfil. Please go and see Jo this evening, no matter what the rules of trial procedure may be. She is cracking at the seams at the moment, and a little support is the very least you owe her.

I love you,


After saving it on the computer to make sure he didn't lose it accidentally, though still leaving it on the screen, George picked up her handbag, and after stroking a soundly sleeping Mimi, who had moved from her basket to a corner of the sofa, George let herself quietly out of the front door. The streets were icy as she drove carefully home, and the dark of the early morning almost seemed to be closing in on her. George was glad when she reached home, and let herself in quietly through the front door. The house was silent around her, but she could still feel Kay's presence, still be preternaturally aware of someone else in the space that was usually her own. Kay had put a guard around the dying fire when she'd gone to bed, and now George removed it, putting on another log to bring the still smouldering embers back to a warm, healthy blaze. She was quiet as she made herself some coffee, as it was only just after five-thirty, and she didn't want to waken Kay whose bedroom was directly above the kitchen. When she sat down on the sofa with her coffee, and the crackling logs bathing her in their warmth, the exhaustion of the day before swept over her. It felt so long since she'd had a proper night's sleep, the dormant hours haunted by the fear of what may eventually happen to her, coupled with John's and Jo's reactions to what she now realised was probably the inevitable. Putting the mug of steaming coffee down on the table in front of her, George leaned back into the corner of the sofa, just for a moment allowing her eyes to close.

When Kay came downstairs at around eight o'clock for a cup of tea, she found George, still in the lounge, asleep at one end of the sofa. George was slightly shivering as the fire had died down in the last couple of hours. Lightly touching George's shoulder, Kay called her name, but George didn't stir. Calling her name slightly louder, Kay gently shook her. George's eyes opened, and she gazed blearily up at Kay, not immediately recognising her.

"George, talk to me," Kay encouraged her, not liking the distinct lack of life in George's eyes, but she didn't respond. "George, you need to wake up," Kay told her firmly, but only getting a mumbled groan for a reply. Taking into account George's general thinness, together with the fact that she didn't know if George had eaten yesterday, Kay was forced to wonder if her blood sugar was low. Running quickly back upstairs, she retrieved a blood glucose testing kit from her medical bag, and grabbed a blanket from the warmth of the airing cupboard. George was still slumped in the corner of the sofa, and her eyes had drifted closed again. Wrapping the blanket snugly around her, Kay took one of her hands and pricked a finger, allowing the drop of blood to fall onto the paper strip that came with the kit. George's blood sugar level was 3.2, a little below the lower end of a recommended level of glucose. Well, now at least she knew what the problem was. Going into the kitchen, Kay searched for anything that was sweet and instantly available, but anything resembling either squash or lemonade was either diet, or with the added logo of 'No Added Sugar.' Mixing some honey in hot water, and then adding a little cold to make it drinkable, Kay returned to where George was still soundly sleeping.

"George, I need you to wake up and drink this," Kay told her firmly. George slowly opened her eyes, and Kay held the mug to her lips. "George, drink it, damn you," Kay insisted, now more than a little worried about her. As George coughed on the liquid that was filling her mouth, Kay gently massaged her throat, ensuring that she would swallow it. The shock of being forced to drink something seemed to wake her up a little, making her vision begin to clear. After drinking all that was in the cup, George asked groggily,

"What happened?"

"Your blood sugar was quite low," Kay informed her. "Which meant that I couldn't wake you up."

"Oh, god, I'm sorry," George replied, feeling an utter fool.

"Did you eat at all yesterday?" Kay asked quietly, wondering just how big a can of worms she was opening by asking this. George looked at everything but Kay, the barely crackling fire, the piano, and eventually back to Kay. "I'll take that as a no," Kay said philosophically.

"Smoking isn't my only addictive vice," George said quietly.

"You suffer from anorexia," Kay replied, putting George's euphemism into its all too clinical form. George winced.

"I positively loathe that word," She said vehemently. "But I don't understand. I've stopped eating for far longer than this before, and become far thinner than I am now, and yet I've never felt quite like that before. I fainted in court once, but that was nothing like this."

"When was the last time you ate?" Kay asked her, trying to work out this little quandary.

"Thursday evening, Jo was here, you ate with us."

"Do you have any underlying health problems that might affect your blood glucose and haemoglobin levels?" What little colour George's face had, immediately drained away. So, that little bundle of cells was affecting other things now, was it? "Tell me," Kay encouraged, wanting to help her as much as she possibly could.

"I, erm, I have a lump in my breast." George brought the words out with such difficulty that Kay could tell this was the first time she had actually uttered them.

"How long have you had it?" Kay asked gently, her original vocation slipping back into place like a hand to a glove.

"I found it at Christmas," George told her, wondering a little ironically if John was about to sleep with this confidante as well.

"And has it grown?"

"Yes," George replied, turning her face away from Kay because she knew what question was about to come.

"Have you done anything about it?"

"No, not yet. There simply hasn't been time," George insisted quickly before Kay could remonstrate with her. "I've had Barbara's trial to prepare for, plus god knows how many other cases to keep me quiet. Jo isn't coping especially well with this case because it reminds her of when her husband was terminally ill, and I know that she's started drinking too much because of that, and I'm so scared of either of them finding it that I'm finding it virtually impossible to sleep with either of them, because I couldn't handle either of them demanding explanations that I don't know how to give." All these words had come out in a rush, the last couple of statements bringing exhausted tears with them. Kay put her arms round George, not a gesture she usually bestowed on anyone, but there was so much pain and confusion in George's tone that she found it was purely instinctive to try and comfort her.

"I think you're exhausted," She said when George began to calm down, realising that only the immediate problems could be addressed at this point. "What time did you get in? I didn't hear you."

"About five-thirty," George replied, lifting a hand to cover a yawn. "John was still asleep when I left him."

"How did it go?" Kay asked, trying to rub some warmth into George's shoulders.

"Trust me, if you ever catch a lover just after they've had someone else, don't ever ask them why they did it, because you'll get far more than you ever bargained for. Well, if they're anything like John you will anyway. God, if I think I don't look up to much now, that's nothing to how I'll look if they have to take my breast away."

"It's far too early to be talking about things like that," Kay told her gently, realising that this was what was at the heart of George's delay in seeking treatment. "For now, I think you should have something to eat, and then go to sleep for a few hours, and we'll talk about everything else later."

"I'm sorry," George said as she dragged herself up from the sofa. "You didn't come over here to deal with all my problems as well as Barbara's."

"George, I'm a doctor, and I want to help you in any way I can."

No matter what she did that day, Kay's thoughts kept returning to George's problem. Why had she delayed so long in seeking treatment for it? And why hadn't she even told anyone of its existence? Of course, she thought disgustedly to herself, the answer to all this was plain and simple fear, fear of the strongest kind, fear that could make the most sensible people do the stupidest things. After sleeping for about three hours, George had closeted herself in her home office, saying that she had a week's worth of work to catch up on, but Kay privately thought that she was hiding from her admission of that morning. Kay was contented to sit in front of the open log fire, compiling notes for a couple of lectures she was due to give in the coming week. The weather was terrible outside, with the wind and rain pounding against the windows, making any thought of venturing out there completely redundant. In the middle of the afternoon, George popped her head out to inform Kay that a load of body diagrams had just arrived on her fax machine.

"Oh, good," Kay said, getting up and going towards the office. "I asked Marino to fax me a copy of the file for the case we're working on back home. I thought I might usefully take some time to go over it. You never know when inspiration might strike." Collecting the thick wad of paper together, Kay went back into the lounge and began spreading it out on the coffee table in order of victim. There were copies of photographs, autopsy reports, tentative psychological profiles, and death certificates, far too much of it in her own handwriting.

When she had been working on this for about an hour, trying to piece together the far too frightening jigsaw, the phone rang. Seeing the cordless lying on the sofa, Kay reached over and picked it up. George had heard it ring through the open door of her office, and was greatly relieved that it wasn't anyone for her. She didn't especially feel in the mood for communicating with anyone today. Kay's presence might once have irritated her whilst she was in such a frame of mind, but now she simply found her company restful, unintrusive, and in a way slightly comforting. The caller was Lucy, and George did her best to ignore Kay's side of the conversation, not wanting to intrude. But when she heard Kay's exclamation of half anger, half horror, her eyes widened in surprise.

"Lucy Farinelli, don't you dare think of doing something quite so stupid!" George couldn't help it, she was now incredibly curious. "I mean it, Lucy," Kay continued. "I more than anybody want to catch this maniac, but I do not want you setting yourself up to look like me, in order to try and catch him in the act. I might want this killer under lock and key, but I don't want you dead to achieve that!" Now George was really intrigued, though from what Kay had said, it was perfectly obvious what she was objecting to.

After Kay had put the phone down, managing to calm down and finally have a civil conversation with her niece, George left her work for a while and went to make some coffee. Automatically making Kay a cup as well, she took them both into the lounge. Trying to clear a little room on the coffee table for the mugs, George picked up a rather gruesome-looking photograph.

"What on earth is that?" She asked, holding it up for Kay to see. Momentarily glancing at it, Kay replied,

"It's a somewhat magnified map of the severed veins and arteries inside the neck of a woman whose throat was cut." Screwing up her face in disgust, George put the photograph back on the table.

"Rather you than me," She said, averting her eyes from the rest of the horrors laid out before her.

"It might be next time," Kay said a little thoughtfully.

"Oh, god, Kay, I didn't mean..." George said, sounding utterly horrified.

"I know you didn't," Kay said with a reassuring smile. Then, turning serious again, she added, "Lucy wants to make herself look like me, and let it be known that I'm back in the country, in order to set a trap for the killer. I'm the one he's really after, and he can't keep finding women who just happen to bear a significant resemblance to me. It terrifies me when she comes up with highly dangerous schemes like this, but I've hopefully managed to talk her out of that one. If any traps are going to be set for this evil little bastard, I'd far rather be the bait myself."

"I don't think I could ever do anything like that," George said slightly in awe.

"I didn't think I could at one time, when I was going through med school in Baltimore. I knew that I wanted to go into forensic pathology, but I never suspected that I might one day be putting myself in the type of danger that I sometimes do. I've lost count of the times that Marino has slept on my couch, in an attempt to act as my bodyguard. When I first arrived in Richmond, he did everything to wind me up, because he wasn't used to a woman having jurisdiction over parts of his cases. He used to routinely borrow evidence, and forget to send me reports and photographs just to annoy me. But his having to shoot a serial strangler in my bedroom one night, seemed to change his mind about me."

Lighting herself a cigarette, George thoughtfully looked at Kay and her work. This woman was used to putting herself in harm's way purely to acquire answers and to achieve justice, something she knew that John would be infinitely impressed by.

"George," Kay said carefully, beginning to gather her papers together. "About what you told me this morning. Why haven't you seen anyone about it?" Kay felt that this was a somewhat clumsy way to ask, but she was trying to tread very carefully around George's highly-strung state of fear. George watched her guardedly.

"Part of me wishes I hadn't told you," She couldn't help admitting. "Because in actually voicing it, putting it into words, has made it all the more real."

"You can't hide from it forever," Kay told her gently. "And that's what you've been doing by working so hard, isn't it."

"Probably," George replied a little shame facedly. "But it's sometimes ridiculously easy to put off the inevitable."

"You're doing exactly what I did after Benton died, well, after I thought he'd died," Kay told her, lighting a cigarette of her own. "For about eighteen months, until Diane Bray began to make her presence felt, I did nothing but work. I went to crime scene after crime scene, because dealing with other people's grief was far easier than dealing with my own. Not even Marino could get anywhere near me, and Lucy didn't even try. You se, both she and Marino knew that Benton was still alive."

"Oh my god," George said in astonishment, taking a sip of her coffee. "And yet they kept it from you?"

"They had to," Kay said succinctly. "To keep Benton safe, and so that the Chandonne cartel would come out into the open, thinking they were safe from his ever catching up with them. I was so angry with Benton when I found out that he was still alive, I don't think I've ever been angrier. I remember standing half way up the stairs in the Chandonne house in Baton Rouge, and seeing Benton standing below me in the middle of the cavernous hall. I couldn't believe what I was seeing at first, and I remember sitting down at the bottom of the stairs because I thought I might faint."

"I'm not surprised," George said ruefully.

"My first rational thought was that Benton was somehow on their side, which utterly terrified me. But when he began to explain, so many things began to make sense, Lucy's throwing herself into work just as I had done, and Marino getting drunk on Christmas Day because he'd discovered a file Benton had kept full of important documents before his death. Lucy, Marino and I were all about as dysfunctional as each other during that time. I was because I didn't know how to grieve, and Lucy and Marino because they knew I was still bitterly hurting for a man who was still living."

"Karen did that after her son died," George said quietly, thinking that this must be the chosen path for all seriously professional women, herself and Jo included.

"Karen as in Larkhall's Governor?" Kay asked, having met so many knew people in the last week or so.

"Yes. Her twenty-two-year-old son died last July. He'd been in drugs rehab but Karen didn't know. She only found out after he'd killed himself. She went back to work only a week after he'd died."

"Just like I did after Benton's death."

"She did nothing but work, staying there till god knows what time in the evening, and covering any shifts if they were short staffed. Anyway, it all came to a head a few weeks later, when one of her favourite inmates was found on the hospital wing roof with a razor blade. So, Karen being the stupidly brave angel that she is, went up on the roof to talk Denny down. John was there and he saw every minute of it. He told me afterwards that she went up there with as little thought for her safety as she might if it had been two feet from the ground instead of fifty. You're very much like her in a way, both putting your work before everything else, even when it means putting yourselves at severe risk."

"But isn't that what you're doing?" Kay asked, her talking about Benton having clearly been used to lull George into a false sense of security. When George didn't answer, Kay continued. "You've thrown yourself into this trial, and god knows how many others, to give yourself as little thinking time as possible. Only it hasn't really worked, has it."

"No," George said quietly.

"What is it that you're so afraid of?" Kay asked, though she thought she could hazard a guess. Seeming to think about how to word this for a moment or two, George attempted a reply.

"I'm terrified of how much they might have to take away, and of how that will make me look afterwards. Connie Beauchamp looked so flawless, so absolutely perfect, and I can't help thinking that if the worst happens and I do lose a breast, that John won't even be able to look at me, never mind want to make love to me. I know it sounds terribly stupid, but I know just how much female beauty has always meant to him."

Part 91

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